Sour Cream Blueberry Zucchini Bread

My daughter is a food hummer. Do you have one of those? My niece was one when she was little, too. These joyous kids enjoy their food so much they hum while eating. My curly-topped blondie can’t hold in her joy when eating yummy food. Yesterday I made this bread. I tried to convince her to eat a slice. She was hesitant, she’s weird about certain colors in her food, she wasn’t sure about the big blue blotches. After a while, she decided to give it a go. A few minutes latter I starting hearing a little hum. A cute little tune coming from the dining room. A few minutes later, she toddled over to me to express “Mommy! Yummmmmmm!”. Yep, she’s her mother’s daughter. She loves to express her joy over tasty food.

This tasty, moist bread is a great way to use your bumper crop of zucchini, it makes great gifts (teachers need some love!!) and freezes well.

SOUR CREAM BLUEBERRY ZUCCHINI BREAD

2 eggs
2/3 cup oil
2 cups sugar
2 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup sour cream
3 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups zucchini, shredded
1 pint fresh blueberries, washed

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease two 8×4 loaf pans. In a mixing bowl, beat eggs, oil, vanilla and sugar until light and fluffy. Add sour cream. Mix well. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix until almost flour is almost incorporated. It will be thick. Add zucchini and blueberries. Stir by hand just until mixed. Split the batter between the two loaf pans. Bake for 55-60 minutes, or until a knife entered near the center comes out clean. Cool in the loaf pans on a baking rack before removing from pans.

REAL food alert: Check your sour cream for additives. The ingredients should just be cream, or cream, milk and enzymes.

HEALTH alert: Make this healthier by subbing 2 cups of the flour for whole wheat. You can also choose a healthier sugar, like raw honey or agave, or a less-processed sugar, like succanat. Keep at least one cup of sugar a “dry” sugar, so sub up to one cup for honey or agave. Subbing the sugar or flour will result in a denser, heavier bread. You can substitute fat free sour cream, but notice the increase in additives.

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Our journey via an elimination diet…

People have various paths to changing to an all-real food diet. Sometimes it’s for health, sometimes it’s a more global reason, and many times it’s because your body or your child’s body seems to be off and you’re desperately trying to figure out what’s going on with it. Lately, many people have been asking me our story.

When my oldest son was 4 years old, he started kindergarten. We started having issues with the teacher. When he was in preschool, I knew he was different, and he started stuttering over words, but it was sporadic, and my mommy intuition told me something was different and off, it wasn’t just a speech issue. He had days were he was insanely impulsive and energetic, and his eyes seemed glazed over. Other days it was like my child was “back”. I could see him clearly. I started feeling like there was a food connection. I don’t know why, just instinctively I started asking him what he ate for lunch on days he was “glazed over”. It wasn’t long before the teachers were suggesting “ADHD”, and I was researching for hours online. We started noticing odd vocalizations, a coughing noise, tongue clicking, a squeak. I discovered the terms “spirited” and “sensory processing disorder” as I started listing things that set him off (odd textures, windy days, standing or sitting too close to someone, bright light, loud noises). Finally, because we had an obstinate kinder teacher who refused to work with us or him (the kid started kindergarten already reading and she expected him to quietly sit and color princess coloring sheets, can we at the very least get some super hero ones? No wonder he’s acting out…), we decided to take him to a pediatrician. I knew I would not put him on meds and searched for a pediatrician who I felt would work with us. We were insanely blessed to find an Integrative Medicine Pediatrician who specialized in treating kids with “ADHD” who didn’t want to be medicated. The very first thing he did was put him on a fish oil supplement, and start him on a multiple food elimination diet, to see if the behaviors were food-related. Then he referred us to a neurologist for a possible Tourette’s diagnosis.

To know if your body is allergic to a food, there are blood tests that can be done, or prick tests. These tests are not extremely reliable, they produce both false negatives and false positives. If the reaction to a food is behavior based, the only sure-fire way to determine if it’s food related is to systematically remove foods from your diet and see if the symptoms subside. This is very time consuming if you take one food out at a time. Also, if your body reacts to multiple foods, you’re wasting your time. The best way to determine what foods you are reacting to, is to remove most possible foods at once, the reintroduce them. This is called a multiple food elimination diet. The one we used, and have shared with countless others suffering from behavioral issues, spectrum disorders, eczema, rashes, chronic stomach trouble, chronic allergies or colds, IBS, GERD and other issues, is listed below. Essentially, you remove all major allergen foods for 2-4 weeks, until the symptoms subside. Within two weeks, our son emerged, and stayed with us. No more glazed over eyes, no more angry outbursts, and a dramatic reduction in impulsivity and energy level. He still had tics and still has sensory issues, and did receive diagnoses for both Tourette’s Syndrome and Sensory Processing Disorder. But, once we separated his food-related behavior from the other two, we could begin to give him the tools he needed to overcome and thrive with his TS and SPD. We discovered through the diet that he was especially sensitive to artificials, especially MSG and Sodium Nitrate/Nitrite. In addition, he was allergic to soy. As long as we kept soy and additives out of his diet, his “ADHD” behavior was gone. Many doctors re now suggesting kids with “ADHD” or on the autism spectrum eat a gluten- and dairy-free diet. Personally, I feel that many people see success with this either because the child is, indeed, reacting to either gluten, wheat, or dairy, or because with that diet, most processed foods are eliminated, which eliminates a host of other possible allergen foods. To me, it makes more sense to TEST your child and figure out what they personally react to.

Since doing the diet, six years ago, I’ve spent a good portion of my time cooking our meals from scratch. After strictly eliminating soy from my son’s diet for several years, he now can eat most everything, except for soy sauce and straight soybeans. We still attempt to eliminate additives and artificials and eat as clean as possible, but he has more flexibility in his eating, which is great for a social pre-teenager. Our pediatrician moved to California a little while after we started our journey, and I just discovered that he published a book to help parents of kids with “ADHD”. We will forever be grateful to him for his help on putting us on our path to better health, and our son’s path to success.

This diet will work with absolutely any condition you think may be food related. Within a few weeks, you’ll know for sure if it is (well, if it’s any of the foods you are removing). It can be difficult, especially for kids. There can be absolutely NO cheating, not even a little bit, for it to work. We find it’s easiest to do when the kids are out of school, and try to work it around holidays.

ELIMINATION DIET

Eliminate the following foods completely from your diet for up to 4 weeks, or until the symptoms completely subside. If the symptoms don’t go away, they are not due to a food allergy (at least for these foods, which are all of the common allergens). If they do go away, and you have been on the diet for at least 14 days, bring one food back in to your diet. If the symptoms are still gone after 5 days of eating the new food, it is safe to bring in another food. Do this for each food item. If the symptoms return after introducing an item, that may be the culprit. Eliminate that item again until the symptoms go away again. Continue to bring in the other foods on the list one by one to see if any other foods may also be causing the problem.

Dairy (including Casein)
Gluten
Yeast
Wheat
Citrus (lemons, limes, oranges, tangerines, grapefruit)
Corn (including corn starch and other corn products)
Nuts (including peanuts-even though it’s really a legume)
Eggs
Soy (including soy lecithin)
Seafood
Artificial additives : avoid all artificial color, flavor, preservatives and sweeteners
Any meat you eat should be uncured (you can tell cured meat by the ingredients ending in “nitrite” or “nitrate”: typically ham, hot dogs, bacon, sausage and some deli meats)

Eat as “clean” as possible. Eat organic when possible. Check ALL labels. If you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it. Eat rice pasta, rice bread, Boars Head brand deli turkey and chicken, a lot of fruit and veggies, lean natural meat.

Whole Wheat Breakfast Pockets

Breakfast.

It’s the bain of my existence.

Or it’s a stable beginning to a day of healthy eating.

Or it’s an indulgent part of a fabulous day the ends in me with chocolate stains on my shirt.

It fluctuates between those three.

I have to have protein with my breakfast, and so do my kids. If we have an easy cereal morning, within a few hours everyone is grumpy and hungry. The problem is, I’m not always in the mood to make eggs and my kids aren’t always in the mood for whole grain oatmeal. I need an easy pre-prepared breakfast option for crazy days and lazy days.

I took inspiration from frozen hot pockets, and decided to make some myself, but healthier. The crust is a super soft and flavorful honey whole wheat bread, rolled thin, so there’s no heaviness (I know what you’re thinking when you hear “whole wheat”…banish that thought). The greatest thing is how flexible the filling can be. My kids prefer eggs, sausage and cheese. You can just do eggs and cheese, or get creative with stir-fried veggies, quinoa, curried potatoes. One of our favorites is leftover sausage and gravy with scrambled eggs. The best thing? These can be frozen, then nuked in the microwave for a super simple, quick breakfast on the go, but HEALTHY!!! You’ll win the mom of the year award.

WHOLE WHEAT BREAKFAST POCKETS
makes 18 pockets

1 cup warm water
1/4 cup raw honey
1 1/2 TBS yeast
1/2 cup oil
1 egg, whisked at room temperature
3-4 cups whole wheat flour, divided
4 TBS vital wheat gluten
1/3 cup dry milk
1 tsp salt

Take the egg out of the fridge to bring to room temperature, whisk it in a bowl. In a mixer, with dough hook attached, stir together warm water and honey. Add yeast and let sit for 5 minutes, until frothy.  Add oil, egg, 2 cups of wheat flour, gluten, dry milk and salt. Mix on low until well combined. Add 1 additional cup of flour. With mixer on low, add more flour a little as a time, as needed, until dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and creates a ball. Your goal here is to add as little flour as possible. Let the mixer knead the dough for 5 minutes. Check on it every once in a while and add small portions of flour as needed if dough  sticks to the sides of the bowl.

When kneading is finished, cover bowl with a towel and place in a warm spot to rise for one hour, or until double in bulk.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Dump dough on a lightly floured surface. Divide into 6 equal pieces. Roll out each piece into a rectangle. Roll it as thin as you can without it ripping. Cut each rectangle into 3 pieces. Place 1/3 cup of whatever filling you are using onto one side. Fold it over and pinch the edge shut (this works best if you bring the bottom up and fold it over the top before pinching. Place them on a parchment-covered baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, or until golden brown.

Let cool before placing in freezer zipper bags and freezing. To reheat, take from freezer and microwave for 35 seconds.

FILLING:

Sausage, Egg & Cheese:
1/2 lb breakfast sausage
12 eggs
cheese of choice

Brown sausage in a skillet. Drain well. Scramble eggs and cook in a skillet until cooked through, but not brown. Mix the sausage in with the eggs. Use as a filling, topping with cheese as desired before pinching shut.

REAL food alert: check your sausage for MSG, BHA and BHT. Check your pre-shredded cheese for various additives, including some that contain popular allergens (best bet: buy it and shred it yourself).

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Sugar Cookies with Sweet Honey Icing

Easter is almost upon us. Maybe this year will be the year that I dig through boxes and find all of the Easter-egg dying kits I’ve bought over years on clearance after Easter.

I always have good intentions.

But, then the holiday is a few days away and I look around my messy house and I think, “Do I REALLY want to gather the kids all in one place allowing them to get creative with DYE? Do I want to take deep breaths through all the arguing: “I wanted the yellow!!!!!!” “But I want a really dark egg, you have to leave it in a long time!” “But I’m making a tye-dyed egg, I need yellow or it will mess up my pattern!” Sigh. Yes. It’s important. Because we’re making memories. Conflict-ridden, hair-pulling, someone-ends-up-grounded-and-something-ends-up-irreparably-damaged memories.

I believe in traditions. But, sometimes, I dislike them. Anything creative I have a hard time with, maybe because want the yellow first. Pumpkin carving is the same way. I want to sit by myself for 2 hours and create a masterpiece, a pumpkin that will have everyone in the neighborhood talking. My kids have the same penchant for creating and perfection that I do. Get three or four of us in the same room creating and things can get complicated.

So, I’ve figured out some ways to make creative traditions fun. First, I throw all expectations out the window: expectations of behavior and of creative outcome. Second, I put anything of sentimental value AWAY and prep well, to minimize destruction. Third, I decide if my creation is important to me. If it is, I allot myself separate time to create, and make sure I remember that the time is to be spent helping the kids create.

I also like to change up traditions. Easter egg dying has been our most conflict-driven tradition, for some reason. Plus, you can only eat so many deviled eggs. So, this year, we stole a Christmas tradition for Easter. Decorating sugar cookies. Every year before Christmas, my mom gets all of the grandkids and has a cookie decorating party at her house. She uses the same recipe she’s been using since we were kids. The original recipe was called “Peanuts Sugar Cookies” because it came with a set of Peanuts Characters cookie cutters (you know, Charlie Brown, Snoopy…). In my opinion, it is the best sugar cookie recipe. I have never found one I liked better. The flavor is pure, the cookies hold their shape well, and they are crispy without being hard (if you are a soft-sugar-cookie person, this is not the recipe for you).

Now…what to do about the Easter egg hunt…

SUGAR COOKIES

1 1/2 cup butter
1 cup white sugar
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla
4 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder

Cream together the sugar and butter until fluffy. Add in the egg and vanilla, mix well. Add in the flour and baking powder. Mix just until flour is incorporated. Over mixing will make tough cookies. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate 2 hours, up to overnight. If you refrigerate it overnight, allow it to thaw a bit before trying to work with it.

preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roll out the dough 1/4 inch thick on a lightly floured surface and cut out as desired. Bake in the preheated oven for 8-10 minutes, until the edges barely start to brown. Frost and decorate.

SWEET HONEY ICING

2 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 TBS milk
1 1/2- 2 TBS raw honey
1/2 tsp vanilla

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar and milk until smooth. Slowly drizzle in 1 1/2 TBS of the honey while mixing. Add the vanilla and whisk until smooth and glossy. If it is too thick, add additional honey.

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Raspberry Lemonade Floats

Summer is fast approaching, and there’s nothing better in the summer than a frosty, creamy, refreshing drink. For this post, we have a guest interview. This delicious concoction was invented by my oldest son (age eleven) one night at dinner. His eyes lit up suddenly and he exclaimed “Ooh! We should put ice cream in pink lemonade, you know, like floats?”

So, we tried it…and it’s delicious! The tartness of the lemonade is smoothed by the creamy sweetness of the ice cream. I subbed raspberry lemonade for pink lemonade to add a little extra dimension.

Here’s my interview with the inventor:

Me: How did you come up with the idea for the Raspberry Lemonade Floats?

Him: Um, well, I like ice cream. My brother mentioned lemonade, and I thought since people really like root beer floats, I thought we could try it with pink lemonade.

Me: You are a great cook, do you have a specialty you cook?

Him: Pancakes…well, not pancakes. I like making sausage egg burritos, those are fun…and easy.

Me: What’s your favorite food to eat?

Him: Mac n Cheese and Stroganoff

Me: Who’s your favorite cook? 😉

Him: My mom. (smiles)

Well, there you have it. An interview with one of the greatest up and coming food inventors. Even though summer is still a few months off, spend some time in your kitchen with your kids this summer, teaching them to cook and helping them invent their own creations. Creativity is contagious!!

RASPBERRY LEMONADE FLOATS

Vanilla ice cream
Raspberry  lemonade
Fresh raspberries (optional)

Line up several tall glasses. Drop two scoops of vanilla ice cream in each glass. Pour raspberry lemonade over the ice cream. garnish with fresh raspberries.

REAL food alert: many lemonades are filled with corn syrup, and sometimes artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. Look for “natural” lemonades that are fruit juice and real sugar, or make your own! Ice cream also varies with the amount of additives. Breyers and other natural brands are a step up from conventional brands, full of all sorts of additives and corn syrup. Get used to reading labels for your family’s health. Or….make your own. 😉

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Easy Chewy Granola Bars

My dad passed away a couple of years ago. He was a sporatic, but obsessive, cook. He spent the better part of a year one year perfecting chocolate chip cookies. He experimented with various recipes, tweaking the measurements, substituting butter, margarine and shortening in various ways. In the end he even specified the exact sized scoop you should use to scoop the cookie dough onto the sheet, before pressing each one with your thumb and refrigerating it over night. Some of my best memories of him are him in the kitchen, making the perfect fluffy omelet, or out grilling his specially basted chicken. I think most of my cooking skills come from my mom, but my analytic side definitely comes from my dad.

This last Christmas, a dear family friend gave me a Fred Batterfinger Spatula” target=”_blank”>fun finger scraper, shown in the pictures of this recipe. She chose it, knowing I loved to cook, and because the company who makes them is called “Fred” (my dad’s name is Fred), and each scraper has “Fred” on the handle. She said that way I would always think of my dad while cooking. It’s one of the most thoughtful gifts I’ve ever received. It also started me on a love affair with quirky “Fred” products. I’ll list some of my favorites after the recipe.

For a while now, I’ve been wanting to make chewy granola bars at home, without all of the preservatives, refined sugar and hydrogenated oils you find in the ones in the grocery store. I think I channeled my dad when I made these three different ways in one day, attempting to get them perfect.

The thing I love about homemade granola bars is that you can customize them to be as healthy as you like, also geared toward your kids’ likes and avoiding allergens. This recipe uses peanut butter. If you have allergies to peanuts in your house, substitute the gooey part with 1 cup sugar + 1 cup honey + 1 TBS butter (if they have coconut allergies as well), and cook the same.

EASY CHEWY GRANOLA BARS

3/4 cup natural peanut butter (no sugar, just roasted peanuts and salt)
2/3 cup raw honey (read here about raw vs. processed honey and dangers of store-bought honey)
1 TBS coconut oil (if you don’t have coconut oil, substitute butter)
2 cups oats (use gf oats for gluten-free granola bars)
1 cup crisped rice cereal (I have no notes for this, but didn’t want them to feel left out)
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips (ditto)

In a large bowl, combine the oats and cereal. In a saucepan, over medium heat, combine the peanut butter, honey and coconut oil. Stir continuously. When the mixture barely starts to bubble, continue stirring for 2 minutes, then immediately pour over the oat mixture. Stir until well combined. Let sit for a few minutes, until it’s still warm, but won’t burn you to touch it. Add in the chocolate chips and lightly stir. They will melt a bit, so don’t over mix. Pour the mixture into an 8×8 square pan. Place a large square of wax paper over it and press down as hard as you can, compacting the entire mixture into the pan. Let cool in the fridge for 15 minutes. Cut into 8 bars.

You may want to double or triple this recipe, although it’s easiest to make in smaller batches. You can also personalize it, by adding ground flax, coconut, dried cherries, raisins, etc. have fun!! I’m sure you have noticed that coconut oil for weight loss is making waves right now, this is why I use it as much as I can get away with.

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Some of my favorite “Fred” products:

” target=”_blank”>Pastasaurus: Adorable pasta server with the head of a dinosaur. My kids love it.

” target=”_blank”>”Equal Measure” Measuring cup: a glass measuring cup that measures up to 2 1/2 cups, includes standard and metric measurements. The kicker is that it also includes measurements like “volume of half of the human brain” and “one hundred and fifty thousand poppy seeds”. Practical, yet humorous…and it appeals to the science geek in me.

” target=”_blank”>Unzipped-Bag Shaped Glass Bowl: the company has all sorts of funky-shaped stuff, and this is one of my favorites..it’s a glass bowl, but shaped like an unzipped ziploc bag full of something, sitting up. Perfect for a candy bowl, or fish bowl, or just a conversation starter. Clever.

” target=”_blank”>Cake Candelabra: For the diva, or just for an extra special birthday, this candelabra sit a top a birthday cake to hold your candles. I’m thinking I need one for my 40th birthday…which won’t be for another 20-30 years…

Zucchini Chips

I’ve been seeing pictures of zucchini chips floating around pinterest. My sister swears by a baked version, so I tried it. I couldn’t get what I wanted through baking: a crisp, salty, thin slice of zucchini, like a sweeter, greener potato chip. So, I resorted back to deep frying. Yeah, not the healthiest method, and the nutrition factor is questionable, but, MAN! they were tasty. I much prefer them over potato chips.

ZUCCHINI CHIPS

4 cups water
1/8 cup salt
2-3 zucchinis
oil for frying

In a large bowl, add salt to the water. Stir until dissolved. Slice zucchini very thin (think potato chips). It’s easiest to use a mandolin, food processor, or the slicing part of a box grater. Soak the zucchini in the salt water for 15 minutes. Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large pot to 350-375 degrees. I usually throw a slice in to see if it immediately starts bubbling around the food, that’s how you know it’s ready. Oil at a correct temp leaves less oil on the food, so it’s fried, but not greasy. If you put your food in too early, it will soak up oil before getting fried, leading to greasy food and higher calories.  While waiting for the oil to heat, dry off your zucchini slices as much as possible. Water hitting hot oil will spatter, so be sure you are wearing an apron, and keep your distance. I quickly blotted the zucchini with paper towels, and didn’t have a spattering problem at all. When the oil is ready, dump a handful or two of the zucchini slices into the oil. You want them to be able to float individually in the oil. Use a wooden spoon to separate any that are clinging together. You essentially want to cook one “layer” of zukes at a time. Watch your heat, If they are cooking too slow or too fast as you go, lower or increase your burner temp. Once you see that they are starting brown, remove to a plate covered in paper towels using a slotted spoon. My kids loved these, and I wish I had cooked a double batch!

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Easiest Mac n’ Cheese

Growing up, when we would friends over after school, occasionally one would stay for dinner. I remember one time that one of my friends hung around long enough to get the dinner invite. When my mom brought out dinner in a steaming 9×13 pan, my friend looked confused. “What IS that?” she whispered to me. “Macaroni and Cheese” I said back to her, not understanding her confusion. “Macaroni and Cheese?” she queried, “ours never looks like that…”. “Oh, it’s homemade.” I nonchalantly said as I helped myself to a heaping spoonful, cheese stretching out between my plate and the pyrex dish. Her jaw seemed to drop to the floor. “I didn’t even know you could make it, I thought it always came from a box” she quietly said under her breath.

That was an eye-opener for me. It was a moment when I realized that my generation (and now my kids’ generation) are different when it comes to exposure to the culinary arts. Now, I don’t believe this is a common occurrence. Especially now, there is a great movement back to scratch cooking and real food. But, mac n’ cheese will always be one of those comfort foods that is SO much better homemade, and it’s not even hard. I see macaroni and cheese recipes pinned on pinterest, passed around on facebook…crockpot recipes, Martha Stewart’s recipe, Paula Deen’s recipe…can I just tell you…macaroni and cheese is one of the easiest homemade recipes to master, and every decent recipe out there is just a variation on the basic recipe: basic cheese sauce over cooked noodles.

This recipe isn’t even my mom’s. I use hers every once in a while, but I like this one best, and it has less steps.

EASIEST MACARONI AND CHEESE

4 TBS butter
4 TBS flour
3 cups milk
2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded (mild or sharp, depending on your preference)
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
16 oz. package macaroni noodles, cooked

additional shredded cheese (optional)

Make a Roux by melting the butter in a saucepan over medium heat, then adding the flour. Whisk together and cook while whisking until it turns light brown. Slowly add the milk, 1/2 cup at a time, vigorously whisking out the lumps after each addition. (Click on the roux link for more guidance, if needed). Continue to cook over medium heat, stirring continuously, until mixture thickens. Remove from heat and add the cheese, stirring until all the cheese is melted. Add the cayenne pepper. Pour over the cooked macaroni. You can serve it at this point, if you’re in a hurry, or you can fancy it up by baking it. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour macaroni and cheese into a 9×13 pan. Cover with more shredded cheese. Bake 20-30 minutes, until bubbly.

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ALLERGY alert: This can be made gluten free by using rice pasta and subbing a gluten-free flour for the wheat flour. If it doesn’t sufficiently thicken, you can add a combo of 1 TBS cornstarch + 3 TBS cold water to the mix while it is boiling (before adding the cheese).

Shepherd’s Pie

Shepherd’s Pie is the ultimate comfort food. Yeah, I know, you’re thinking “No, it’s not. Macaroni and Cheese is”. Well, we could arm wrestle over it, but for me, meat and potatoes will beat pasta every single day. Plus, add some green veggies to it, and it turns into health food. Can’t beat that. This is a very versatile recipe, and is perfect for using up leftovers. I personally use leftover roast from my Garlic Pork Roast, or Pot Roast. If you don’t have leftovers, it’s till very tasty using ground beef or ground turkey. Heck, you can use leftover turkey from thanksgiving, and your kids will love you! I also use leftover vegetables, my kids prefer corn and green beans. If you don’t have leftovers, cook up some frozen or fresh veggies. You can use canned, if you must.

SHEPHERD’S PIE

1 lb. ground beef or turkey, or leftover shredded roast.
2 cups assorted cooked vegetables: green beans, carrots or corn.
4 TBS butter
4 TBS flour
2 cups beef broth, or broth from cooking the roast.
4-5 cups mashed potatoes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook ground meat, if using, until brown. Spread meat (either the ground meat, or leftover roast) into a 9×13 pan. Spread vegetables on top of the meat. In a saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Add the flour and cook while whisking until light brown (you are making a Roux). Add broth, 1/2 cup at a time, whisking vigorously after each addition, removing all lumps before adding more broth (click on roux link for additional help). When all of the broth is added, whisk continually until thick. Pour over the meat and veggies. Spread mashed potatoes on top. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes, until hot and bubbly.

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REAL food alert: Many canned and boxed stocks and broths have preservatives or MSG. Double check the ingredients list to make sure there are no ingredients you aren’t comfortable with. Better yet, Make your own broth, or use the liquid from cooking the roast.

ALLERGY alert: This can be made gluten-free by subbing gluten-free flour. If the gravy does not sufficiently thicken, use 1 TBS cornstarch+ 3 TBS cold water, and add it while the gravy is boiling. Stir until thick.  Be sure you double check your stock/broth to make sure it’s gluten-free. This can be made dairy-free by subbing 100% vegetable margarine or oil for the butter.

VEGGIE alert: You could make this vegetarian by using veggie broth, and subbing the meat for cooked beans. Make it vegan by also subbing the butter for oil or 100% vegetable margarine.

For a freezer meal, assemble everything except mashed potatoes. cover snugly with heavy foil. Freeze. To serve, defrost and top with mashed potatoes.

Preservatives

Today I was cleaning out my pantry. In my bread basket, I found a package of english muffins. I was horrified.

I really don’t have anything against english muffins. I love, them, actually…straight out of the toaster smothered in butter and peanut butter…mmmm…

I was horrified because I had purchased these particular english muffins more than a month earlier…and they were still “fresh”…no mold to be found. Ick. How many chemicals did they have to pump into those english muffins to accomplish that? Horrified.

Preservatives are added to foods to extend its life, by preventing bacterial or fungal growth or preventing oxidation, which leads to discolorization or rancidity. Preservatives are also used on some produce to delay spoilage.

Some Common Preservatives You Should be Aware of:

BHA/BHT: Used in foods high in fats, cereals, baked goods, chewing gum, potato chips and meats. Keeps meat from discoloring, keeps food from going rancid. These cause cancer in lab animals and the U.S. Dept of Health classifies it as being “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen”. Some countries have restricted or banned their use in food.

Potassium Bromate: Used in baked goods, specifically bread, to improve texture and make it rise higher. It is also used in the production of malt barley. Its is a known carcinogen that has been banned in several countries. Its use in the U.S. is restricted, and bakers are “encouraged” to voluntarily not use it. (!!) This is justified, because under the right baking conditions, it is used up when the bread is baked. However, fluctuations in temperature or baking time means that it may still remain in the baked product. Also look for “bromated flour” in the ingredients on your bread…or make your bread from scratch. 🙂

Propyl Gallate: Used in high-fat foods. It is also used in cosmetics and toothpaste. It inhibits oxidation in oils. This is a suspected carcinogen that has been banned in many countries. It also increases estrogen levels, can create stomach irritation, skin irritation, and asthma attacks.

Sodium Benzoate: Used in beverages, pickles, salad dressings, jams & jellies, margarine, pre-made burger patties, fast food hamburgers. Although research is currently inconclusive, some evidence shows that when sodium benzoate combines with vitamin C (found in many soft drinks and jellies), it forms benzene, which is a carcinogen. It has been linked with hyperactivity in children, as well as DNA damage.

Sodium Nitrate/Nitrite: Used in cured meats, including bacon, smoked sausage, deli meats, hot dogs, etc. Prevents bacterial growth and discolorization. Nitrate is a natural salt. Synthetic nitrite is nitrate that is chemically processed.  Nitrite is more worrisome than nitrate, it is a known toxin in high amounts. Both can combine with chemicals in the stomach to create nitrosamine, a highly carcinogenic substance. They also create nitrosamine when charred, like when you grill your hot dogs. It is also possible that the curing process itself turns some of the nitrite/nitrate into nitrosamine. Nitrite has been linked to migraines, COPD, neurological conditions, diabetes and behavior issues in children. Synthetic nitrite is allowed to contain heavy metals, lead and arsenic. If you have a history of cancer in your family, you would be wise to avoid this.  It is important to note that nitrite does naturally occur in some foods, especially vegetables. You can find “uncured” hot dogs, sausage and bacon that instead use celery juice in the curing process. These are still cured, but do not use the synthetic nitrates. There is still a possiblity the body reacts the same way to the natural nitrites as the do the synthetic…but if you MUST have bacon (and…sometimes we must), “uncured” bacon is definitely a step or two up.

Sulfites (Bisulfites/Metabisulfites/Sulfur Dioxide): Used in wine, dried fruit, dried potatoes, and bottled lemon juice.  It inhibits bacterial growth and fruit discolorization. Some people are allergic or highly sensitive to sulfites. It may cause breathing problems in those who are sensitive. It is also known to destroy vitamin B1, which is needed to metabolize carbs and alcohol. If you have weird reactions to various foods, sulfite sensitivity may be the culprit.

TBHQ: Used in oils, high-oil foods, and frozen fish. It is shown to have negative affects on lab animals in high doses, such as DNA damage and tumors. Studies contradict and more studies are needed before it is labelled a carcinogen. There is strong evidence that it is related to stomach cancer.