Quick and Easy Holiday Recipes

quick-and-easy-holiday-recipesDon’t let holiday party planning stress you out: try these quick and easy make-ahead recipes for your next holiday gathering, and enjoy this wonderful time of the year.


As the holidays become a fast approaching reality, the feeling of panic can quickly take over the sparkle…Will I be able to get everything done in time? Will it be just the way I want it? Can I make entertaining extra special without spending too much time or money on the details? Are there things we can do to entertain and prepare for the holidays without making ourselves crazy in the process?  

I cater on the weekends and in my spare time, I have come across some simple ways to make the holidays extra special. What can I do to have homemade rolls, a lovely platter of savory bites that can be taken to the next party or maybe a simple dessert that will appeal to even the pickiest foodie? Just by having a few simple ingredients on hand you can make the holidays sparkle.  Try out some of these tips and recipes to make your holidays merry and bright.

Chris’s Make Ahead Refrigerator Dinner Rolls

Homemade dinner rolls make any holiday meal extra special. With just a few inexpensive key ingredients, your house will smell like you have been baking all day and your guests will feel extra special when you are pulling these rolls out of your oven right before the event. Try these easy, foolproof dinner rolls for your next gathering.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups warm water (105 to 115 degrees)
  • 2 packages (1/4 ounce each) active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted, plus more for pan and brushing
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 6 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for shaping dough

Directions

  1. Pour warm water into a large bowl or stand mixer bowl; sprinkle with yeast, and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add sugar, butter, eggs, and salt; whisk to combine. Change out whisk attachment to a dough hook. Add flour; mix until incorporated and a sticky dough forms. Move dough to a buttered bowl.  Brush top of dough with butter; cover bowl with plastic wrap, and set aside in a warm place until dough has doubled in size, about 1 hour.
  3. Turn dough out onto a well-floured work surface. With floured hands, roll dough into a thick log. Cut into 18 equal pieces (halve log, cut each half in thirds, then cut each piece into thirds again).
  4. Brush a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with butter. One at a time, flatten each piece of dough, then fold edges toward the center, pressing to secure, until a smooth ball forms. Place dough balls in prepared baking pan, smooth side up (you should have 3 rows of 6). Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate (at least 4 hours and up to 1 day.), OR you can cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, 30 to 40 minutes.
  5. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove plastic wrap; brush rolls with butter. Bake until golden and rolls sound hollow when tapped on bottom, 35 to 40 minutes (tent with aluminum foil if browning too quickly). Pull rolls apart, and serve warm.

Green Onion Cheese Ball

For that special get together, sometimes it is fun to have an easy-to-make alternative to the traditional holiday sweet treat. Here is a simple recipe that, for next to nothing, can be whipped up in a matter of minutes and will look like you spent hours preparing it. Even if you do not like onion, you will be amazed at the flavor. This cheese ball is mild enough that you get just a hint of onion along with the other seasonings. This could be the next neighborhood favorite.

Ingredients

  • 3 – 8 oz pkgs. cream cheese (room temperature)
  • 1 pkg. dry onion soup mix (I prefer Lipton)
  • 6 green onions finely diced (Whole onion – white and green parts)
  • Chopped nuts

Directions

Mix first three ingredients thoroughly, shape into a ball, and roll in chopped nuts.

If desired, use this recipe to make two or three small cheese balls out of one batch for a great addition to a cheese and cracker platter for a smaller group. As another option, shape the cream cheese mixture into a teardrop so it looks like a festive Christmas pine cone when sliced or whole almonds are added in a layered pattern, starting at the point and working back. Then place sprigs of green onions, rosemary, or parsley at the round end.

Easy Sugar Cookies

These quick and easy recipes will give your holiday the sparkle and shine that shows you care, with a minimum of effort allowing you to enjoy the holidays with your friends and family.

Ingredients

  • White cake mix (dry)
  • ¼ cup butter or margarine (melted)
  • 2 eggs

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour all ingredients into mixing bowl. Mix with a hand mixer until everything is incorporated and looks like moist crumbles. Press into the shape of a disk. Roll out and cut shapes with cookie cutter or scoop dough into balls. Place on cookie sheet, and bake for about 7-10 minutes until lightly golden brown. Place cookies on cooling rack, let cookies cool. Ice cookies according to preference.


This article was written by Chris Jensen, Piute County Extension Educator.




Winter Bucket List

winter-bucket-list-graphic

What’s on your list of must-do winter activities? Get some inspiration from our winter bucket list. 


Each season has its own excitement and beauty to enjoy. Here is a list of fun things to do this winter to get you started. These are great for family, friends or date nights!

Outdoors

  • Go sledding.
  • Build a snowman.
  • Drive or walk around to see local Christmas lights at night, visit Holiday Lights at Thanksgiving Point November 21 to December 31 (closed Sundays) or Ogden’s Christmas Village (Saturday after Thanksgiving through January 1).
  • Go caroling.
  • Go for a sleigh ride.
  • Have a fun and safe snowball fight.
  • Try cross country skiing or snowshoeing at such places as  Soldier Hollow, Millcreek, Donut Falls, or a place near you!
  • Go tubing at Soldier Hollow.
  • Go skiing or snowboarding. Local resorts include Alta, Brighton, Deer Valley, Snowbird and more.
  • Visit the Macy’s 2016 Holiday-themed Candy Window Display at City Creek Center November 17 to January 1.
  • Go window shopping at the Shops at Riverwoods in Provo.  Enjoy shopping, lights, music, entertainment and outdoor firepits to warm you up. From 6 to 9 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays in November and December. The lighting of Riverwoods is November 18 from 6 to 9 p.m.

Entertainment

  • Go ice skating. The Gallivan Center rink’s opening day is November 13 at 6 p.m.
  • Plan a weekend away at the Snowbird Cliff Lodge and Spa.
  • Visit the Festival of Trees located at the Sandy South Towne Expo Center from November 30 to December 3  from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
  • Have a Candlelight Christmas at This is the Place Heritage Park December 9-23, Monday through Saturday evenings from 5 to 9 p.m.
  • Spend Christmas at the Grand America Hotel. They host Santa and Mrs. Claus with photo opportunities.  A great buffet is provided to complete the experience. There are select days throughout December with seating between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m. Visit their website to make a reservation.
  • Take a stroll through the Annual Holiday Window display at the Grand America Hotel from November 22 to December 31.
  • Go see the Hogle Zoo lights December 1 to 31 from 5:30 to 8 or 9 p.m., depending on the day.  Closed Christmas Day.
  • Attend the Messiah sing-in with the Utah Symphony at Abravanel Hall on Saturday, November 26, and Sunday, the 27, at 7:30 p.m.   
  • Attend the Nutcracker with Ballet West at the Capitol Theatre on December 2 to 26, times vary.
  • Visit the lights at Temple Square. They are first lit the day after Thanksgiving and stay on through December 31. Free concerts and performances daily at six venues November 25 to December 23.
  • Eve Winter Fest December 29 to 31. Salt Lake City’s three-day celebration with concerts, DJs, grown-up drinks and engaging activities for kids and families. Discover everything that downtown has to offer with one all-access pass. 
  • Watch sporting events  – cheer for your favorite basketball, wrestling, ice hockey or gymnastics teams.
  • Attend a local play.
  • Visit a museum, local landmarks and local art galleries.

Home

  • Play a favorite board game or try a new one.
  • Make warm hot cider or cocoa and watch a holiday movie.
  • Build a fort with all the blankets and pillows you can find in the house.
  • Snuggle up to a fire or a sofa and read a holiday classic with someone.
  • Put together a giant puzzle.
  • Have a gingerbread house construction party where everyone brings their old candy, boxes, glue guns, crackers and more. This is fun for the little ones up to the hard-core construction engineer designers.
  • Make indoor s’mores in the oven. Lay the crackers on a cookie sheet, and then place your desired chocolate on the cracker along with marshmallows. Place in the oven at 350 degrees for  3 to 5 minutes until the marshmallows and chocolate are soft and gooey.  
  • Plan a progressive dinner with your friends when January gets boring. Pick your favorite theme and have everyone prepare a different course.
  • Host a murder mystery dinner.
  • Have a cookie exchange party where everyone brings their favorite cookies to trade, then everyone has a variety to take home.

Books

  • Winter themed books for youth:
    • The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder
    • Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu
    • Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater
    • The Winter Room by Gary Paulsen
    • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
    • Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby
    • Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea
    • Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
    • Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George
  • Christmas-themed books for all:
    • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
    • How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss
    • The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore
    • The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
    • The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry
    • Little Women by Louisa May Alcot

Crafts

  • Make a memory book with pictures taken throughout the year.
  • Make snow paint to paint the snow and add some color to winter.
  • Make someone you love a homemade gift for the season.
  • Create homemade ornaments with your children or friends.
  • Cut out paper snowflakes and decorate the house.
  • Make a holiday wreath for the season.
  • Make your own Valentine’s Day cards and decorations.

Food

Here are some foods to warm you up during those cold winter days.


This article was written by Marilyn Albertson, Utah State University Extension Associate Professor, Salt Lake County, and Kirsten Lamplugh, Utah State University Extension Intern, Salt Lake County




25 Holiday Money Wasters

holiday-money-wasters-graphic

It can’t hurt to spend a little extra during the holidays because, “Tis the Season.” Right? Wrong…it can and does hurt. No matter how caught up in the spirit of Christmas you may get, being wise and careful is the name of the game to keep your finances in good standing when January rolls around. Avoid these 25 holiday money wasters.


  1. Shopping without a budget. Before you make any purchases, figure out how much you can afford to spend, stick to your budget and track your spending. Don’t make purchases you haven’t budgeted for. 
  2. Not sharing the cost of entertaining. While it is tempting to just cover all of the costs yourself, share your entertaining costs by assigning such things as food and game supplies with guests. 
  3. Putting purchases on a credit card. Most of us tend to overspend when using a credit card.  We are also less likely to do as much price comparison when we think we will just get it now and be done, then pay for it later. We rationalize that the few extra dollars aren’t that big of a deal breaker. 
  4. Using out-of-network ATMs when shopping. Those fees can add up, so plan carefully. 
  5. Shopping at the last minute. This can be a tricky one. Sometimes in a rush, we buy too much and spend too much. With that said, sometimes there are still some “perfect” items at a great price later in the game. The trouble is, things are generally picked over, and the frustration may not be worth the savings. 
  6. Buying “little” gifts for too many people. In fact, consider an alternative to gift exchanges. Determine a set amount that you donate to a charity, then tell all those would- be-recipients of your gift what you have done. 
  7. Buying party supplies at grocery stores. Try discount stores and dollar stores for the majority of your party supply needs. 
  8. Not comparing prices. There are a number of great ways to check prices on things, so use them — they are free. Some websites/apps include: www.fatwallet.com (they even have a Black Friday app); www.pricehistories.com; www.consumerworld.org; Google Shopper app, www.pricegrabber.com. 
  9. Buying new decorations every year. Cut back on the decorations this year, and use last year’s decorations as much as possible. Get creative and put some time and effort into making decorations. 
  10. Getting new holiday clothes. We don’t need new holiday attire for a family photo, gathering or night out. Learn how to dress up the basics…like a black dress that can be used many times with just a simple switch of less expensive accessories. 
  11. Not taking advantage of free activities. 
  12. Buying too many specialty foods or drinks. Carefully plan menus for simple and economical meals for the majority of your holiday dining. Also, carefully plan your special occasion meals watching for sales. 
  13. Not shopping a year in advance, when things are considerably reduced at the end of each season. 
  14. Not using coupons. This time of year there are some really good deals and promotions…so if there are discounts on items on your list, don’t pass them up. Try www.retailmenot.com for online discount codes at checkout. 
  15. Buying overpriced wrapping paper just to make your gifts look extra special. 
  16. Splurging on meals away from home, or tipping too much when you do go out. 
  17. Paying for warranties on appliances and electronics. Odds are that you won’t need the extra coverage because most major appliances don’t break down during the extended-warranty period. Or you might already be covered. The four major credit card networks — Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express — provide up to a year of extended warranty protection for some cardholders, according to credit card comparison site www.cardhub.com. 
  18. Not clearly planning your charitable contributions. We all want to help out those in need during the holidays, but we usually either go overboard, don’t plan a set amount or get carried away with everyone who approaches your help. This can add up quickly. 
  19. Paying full price for gift cards. It is possible to find gift cards at a discount. Try these sites: www.giftcardgranny.com or www.cardkangaroo.com for up to 50 percent savings sometimes. 
  20. Buying “bad” gifts. Be thoughtful well in advance regarding gifts you plan on giving. 
  21. Going overboard for your kids. It is an easy thing to do, out of desire to make the season magical and a desire to grant their every wish, but be careful. Stay the course on your predetermined amount of money available for gifts, and live within the reality of your budget. 
  22. Running too many errands through poor planning. 
  23. Paying too much for shipping. Try www.freeshipping.org for shipping coupons and the date for free shipping for online purchases this holiday season. 
  24. Spending too much on greeting cards. There are many places to access e-cards. Or better yet, design your own letter/card in a simple program, and send it electronically. You will save on postage and the card. 
  25. Buying for yourself. While you may be worth it, no matter how good the deal, pass it up.  On average we spend about $130 on ourselves during the holidays, according to the National Retail Federation. So be careful…that is a lot of money. Imagine what an impact that extra money will make on your gift list. Only a couple more weeks of abstaining from unnecessary personal purchases and you can get back into the swing of spending on yourself at the first of the year, if you have the money.

This article was written by Teresa Hunsaker, USU Extension family and consumer sciences educator, Weber County




Ask an Expert // Christmas Tree Selection and Care

christmas-trees

Thinking of getting a live Christmas tree this year? Consider these tips from forestry expert Michael Kuhns.


In late November and early December, Utahns head for their local Christmas tree grower or tree lot to purchase this year’s Christmas tree. Selection of a good tree and care for that tree once it is home can help you have a happier and safer holiday season.

Choosing the Perfect Tree

Size is the first thing to consider when getting a Christmas tree. Measure the spot for the tree including width and ceiling height. Remember that several inches will eventually be cut off of the butt end. The stand, on the other hand, may add several inches to the tree’s overall height.

Several types of Christmas trees are available, including cut trees, potted or balled trees, and artificial trees.

Cut Trees

Cut, live trees are the most common type of Christmas tree. Three options are available to a person wanting a cut Christmas tree— a precut tree purchased from a dealer, a choose-and-cut tree purchased from a local grower, or a wild-grown native Christmas tree.

Freshness and moistness are the keys to having a Christmas tree that will last through the holiday season. Once needles dry out on a tree they usually stay dry, even when the tree is placed in a stand with water. The best way to ensure that your tree is fresh is to buy from a local grower or from a retailer you know and trust, either at a choose-and-cut operation or at a lot.

Trees shipped into Christmas tree lots from out of state may be fresh, but sometimes are old and dried out. Follow these steps to be sure that the tree you are buying is fresh and of high quality:

 

  • Gently pull on the needles. They should be tightly attached to the twig.
  • Shake the tree vigorously or bounce the butt on the ground. If green needles fall, look further. Dead, brown needles falling from the inner part of the tree may have been shed years ago and are less of a problem.
  • Check that the tree has a fresh, green color. Some trees are sprayed with a blue-green dye. This dye is harmless but be sure it’s not hiding a dry tree.
  • Buy early before all of the desirable trees have been sold.
  • Fir and pine trees hold needles better than spruce trees.
  • Break a few needles. They should be flexible and will feel moist or possibly sticky. They should also be fragrant when crushed.
  • Be sure limbs are strong enough to support lights and ornaments. Limbs should also be well placed to give the tree a pleasing shape. Minor defects can often be turned toward a wall, however, and can lower the purchase price.
  • Ask the dealer if the tree was locally grown. Local trees are much more likely to be fresh because they are cut nearer Christmas and aren’t shipped long distances.

Choose-and-cut trees are available from Christmas tree growers throughout Utah. For the locations of local growers, contact your County Extension office.

Buy a choose-and-cut tree the way you would a pre-cut tree. Freshness and health are still the most important characteristics. The grower will usually have many trees marked for sale with a variety of sizes. Some growers will cut the tree for you and others will expect you to cut your own.

Once a fresh tree is brought home store it outside with the butt end in water until you are ready to decorate it. Keep it away from sun and wind so it does not dry out. It also helps to recut a thin section from the butt end if possible to open the tree’s vessels. When you are ready to bring the tree in, cut the butt end again if it has been stored very long. Your can attach a ribbon to this disc and make an ornament. The disc will have 7 to 10 growth rings, which can be used to denote important family events.

Potted or Balled Trees

Some people buy a potted or balled Christmas tree with roots intact in the hope of having a new landscape tree come spring. This is very difficult to do successfully, but your chances of success increase if the tree is treated right.

  • Buy a healthy tree from a reputable nursery or grower. Expect to pay a higher price than for a typical Christmas tree.
  • Keep the soil in the ball or pot moist until well after it is transplanted after Christmas. A frozen ball need not be watered if the crown is shaded and protected.
  • Lift and carry the tree by the ball or pot, not the top.
  • Keep the tree in the house no longer than about 1 week.
  • Have the tree’s planting hole dug before the soil freezes and keep the fill dirt thawed if possible. The hole should be about the depth of the root ball or slightly shallower and three times the width of the ball.Remove packing and binding materials when planting the tree. Stake the tree for its first year, if possible.

Fresh Tree Care

Inside your house the tree should be placed in a sturdy stand that holds at least one gallon of water. A fresh tree can lose this much water or more a day, so old-fashioned small stands just do not hold enough. Place the tree away from heaters, furnace vents, televisions, or other sources of heat.

Lights on the tree should be UL approved and protected by an in-line fuse. Small, pin-point lights are good because they remain cool. Old lights with cracked insulation or loose sockets should be discarded–don’t be sentimental about old Christmas tree lights. Turn lights off when the tree is unattended. Flammable decorations should not be used on a Christmas tree with electric lights. Candles should never be used to light a Christmas tree or wreath.

A fresh tree that is watered daily can stay moist and safe for several weeks. If a tree is displayed in a public building, it generally should be kept up for no more than 15 days and should be treated with a fire retardant solution.

After Christmas

Christmas trees can be useful even after they are taken down. Trees can be placed in the yard to add greenery and act as a bird haven until spring. Christmas trees can be used for firewood or chopped up and used as a mulch. Many communities have programs to gather trees after Christmas to be chipped for mulch or other uses.

A Note on Artificial Trees

Artificial trees must be used carefully. Electric lights should not be used on metal trees because of the danger of electric shock. Light these trees with off-the-tree spotlights. Plastic trees may be fire resistant but the fumes they give off when burned are toxic.


This article was written by Michael Kuhns, USU Extension Forestry Specialist




Ten Tips for Healthy Holiday Eating

healthy-holiday-eating

It’s no coincidence that many New Year’s resolution lists include something about health or losing weight. Holiday party food is not known for being healthy, but there are a few things you can do to make better holiday eating choices.


 

The average American will consume about 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving Day when the pre-meal party, the actual dinner and dessert, then evening leftovers are all taken into account. That is enough to gain a pound or two, which can be remedied, but how many more days like this will there be?

Actually, there is the potential for quite a few as the holidays approach: Thanksgiving weekend, family holiday parties, work holiday parties, neighborhood/church holiday parties, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Christmas week, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. In addition to extra meals and calories is the fact that activity levels generally taper off during the holidays. The combination of overeating and not much exercise has the potential to provide weight gain that is often not lost, and year after year, a few more pounds continue to be added to the tally.

It is possible to get through the holidays, however, without gaining weight and being mad at yourself in January. Consider these 10 tips for healthy holiday eating.

 

1. Eat what you love and leave what you like.

You don’t have to eat everything that is put in front of you. Make careful choices and stick with the foods you enjoy most. Don’t select foods that aren’t your favorite just because they are there. 

2. Go to gatherings to gather, not to eat.

Focus on enjoying those you are with, not the food.  

3. Fill your plate with 80 percent healthy foods…

…and save the other 20 percent for dessert or treats.

 4. Skip the punch and eat the cake.

You’ll likely enjoy eating your calories more than drinking them.

5. Don’t save up for later.

It doesn’t make sense to starve all day because you have a party that night. You will likely end up consuming more because you are so hungry. Eat light, but don’t skip meals.

 6. And especially, don’t skip breakfast.

It is the most important meal since it fuels your body as you start the day.

7. Pack the snacks.

Keep healthy snack choices available when you’re on the run so you don’t overeat at mealtimes.

 8. Follow the three-bite rule.

People seem to most enjoy the first and last bites of what they eat, so put a bite in between and call it good after three.

 9. Don’t skimp on sleep.

Being tired and cranky won’t be good for anyone during the holidays.

 10. Drink water.

Staying hydrated during the hustle and bustle will help you feel your best and will also help you not feel so hungry when you get to the table.


This article was written by Candi Merritt, Utah State University Extension certified nutrition education assistant, Candi.merritt@usu.edu




Calcium // Look Beyond the Milk Jug

calcium-graphic

Need more calcium in your diet? You don’t have to get it from a glass of milk— try our Green Eggs and Ham for a calcium boost!


 

A favorite Dr. Seuss story, “I Do Not Like Green Eggs and Ham,” has a great ending with Sam I Am deciding that he does like green eggs and ham.  You may also find that green eggs and ham can be a great addition to your health.

Calcium, the most abundant mineral in the body is an important component to daily health.  Although it is an essential mineral for our bodies, the majority of Americans do not take in enough calcium for their body’s daily use. Calcium is a key factor in maintaining good health. It is essential for building and maintaining bones and teeth, for keeping a regular heart beat and reduced blood pressure, for the transmission of nerve impulses and muscle contraction and the maintenance of cell membranes. New research shows that calcium can protect against colon cancer. Adequate calcium intake may reduce your overall risk of colon cancer and suppress the growth of polyps that can lead to cancer.

Most Americans realize that calcium builds strong bones and helps in keeping them strong later in life to prevent osteoporosis.  Yet most Americans only consume half of the daily amount of calcium they need from their diet.

Calcium is excreted every day through sweat and body waste.  To prevent bones from taking calcium from the blood and body, replenish your body daily with foods rich in calcium and vitamin D.  Such foods high in calcium are dairy products, kale, almonds, sardines and canned salmon with bones, oranges, broccoli and sweet potatoes.  If you do not get enough calcium from the foods you eat, change your diet or take calcium and vitamin D supplements. Your body needs vitamin D to help absorb calcium. Vitamin D comes from the ultraviolent sun rays and from fortified foods such as eggs, liver, oysters and fish.

The best ways to increase calcium are with increased dairy products (3-4 servings a day), additional dark green vegetables and foods with added calcium.  

As we age, our metabolism and ability to absorb nutrients decreases. It is critical that we increase the amount of calcium we intake daily.  Women over 50 and men over 65 need to consume 1,200-1,500 milligrams of calcium daily. Additional Vitamin D is also needed for absorption of calcium since many people do not get enough sun and skin no longer absorbs the vitamin D as it did in younger years.

Calcium intake is a global concern – especially in countries that do eat many dairy products.  New research being conducted by USDA Children’s Center is adding calcium to carrots and other veggies.  Watch for calcium-boosted carrots in the grocery store.

Now you can see how important it is to begin to like our “Green Eggs and Ham.”

Green Eggs and Ham

3 eggs
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 tablespoon butter, melted
1 cup 2% reduced-fat cottage cheese
1 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/8 teaspoon hot pepper sauce, or to taste
1 cup spinach leaves, loosely packed
12 thin slices ham

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare muffin tins.
2. Combine eggs, flour, butter, cottage cheese, cheddar and hot sauce in a food processor or blender. Process until well blended. Add spinach and pulse briefly. Do not over-process; green flecks should be visible.
3. Line muffin tins with ham slices, pressing down with fingertips. Pour about 1/3 cup egg mixture into each tin.
4. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Serves 8-12 people                      I 


This article was written by Carolyn Washburn, Utah State University Extension associate professor, carolyn.washburn@usu.edu.




Black Friday // Are you opting outside?

opt-outside

What does it mean to opt outside? Instead of a shopping marathon, consider spending the day after Thanksgiving outside. Get your heart rate up by hiking instead of by maxing out your credit card next Friday.


‘Tis the season of the holiday hustle and bustle. While we are only just starting November, many of us are already starting to stress over the holidays that will be here before we know it – from airport schedules, to how to cook the perfect meal and even planning for Black Friday shopping deals. But maybe it is time to take a step back from everything.

Last year REI did something unprecedented – they gave all their employees a paid day off on Black Friday,  the busiest shopping day of the year. They urged consumers to go enjoy themselves outside, and they gave suggestions on trails and activities in every state. The movement was mentioned 84,763 times during the week of Black Friday 2015. This year, REI, along and other companies, will be closing their doors on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday.

You may be thinking, so why should I opt to be outside when these are the best deals of the season?

  1. Many Black Friday deals are no longer just on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Check your local ads and stores to see what and when the sales are. Many will have deals happening throughout the month of November and December.
  2. Spend time with your family. Thanksgiving is a time when our thoughts turn to gratitude. Why not show it by participating in a family activity outside? Go on a hike or play at a local park. These are the activities that will make lasting memories for your family.
  3. You just spent Thanksgiving day eating. If your family is anything like mine, we spend the morning cooking and then graze on the food all day! Being physically active the next day will not only make you feel better, but it will help create good habits before your New Year’s resolutions.
  4. We live in the beautiful state of Utah! I think we sometimes forget to really admire the resources we have available here in our state. Utah has 45 state parks and five national parks, all offering diverse recreational opportunities. If you do not want to drive to a park, check out recreational opportunities in your county. Visit your local county website to see what is available in your area.

Will you be a part of the 390,491 people opting outside this year?


This article was written by Jaqueline Neid- Avila, RDN, CD, Nutrition Faculty




Ten Tips for Stress Management

stress-management

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, but it can also be a stressful time. Try some of these strategies to manage your stress, no matter the time of year.


Despite our best efforts to reduce the stress in our lives, it is unrealistic to think we will completely eliminate it. Therefore, it is critical for our health and well-being to find ways to manage the stress that infiltrates our lives.

In order to effectively manage stress, it is important to first know where it is coming from. Take time to pinpoint the areas of your life that seem to be stress factors. Once you know where the stress is coming from, it is easier to manage.

The number one symptom of stress is muscle tension. Stretching and exercising will help flush the stress hormones out of your body. Exercise releases the happy, positive chemicals that can help fight illness and depression naturally. Mediation and relaxation exercises are simple to perform and combine deep breathing, releasing of muscle tension and clearing of negative thoughts. If you practice these exercises regularly, you can use them when needed to lessen the negative effects of stress. Good nutrition and proper sleep will also aid in stress management. If you are not sleeping well, you will have less energy and fewer resources for coping with stress.

So what are some other stress buster activities?

  1. Breathe. Breathing deeply sends a message to our bodies to relax.
  2. Visualize calm. You’ve probably heard this before, but going to a happy place in your mind (I enjoy thinking of past vacation spots) can help you relax. For example, try feeling the sand in your toes and remembering what the ocean smells like. (This is especially helpful in calming my mind so I can sleep.)
  3. Take a time out. Spend time doing something you love. It doesn’t have to be for hours, and it won’t make your problems go away, but just reading a book or looking through old pictures for 10 minutes can help energize you to take on the next challenge.
  4. Just say no. We don’t have to do everything. Enough said.
  5. Laugh! Learning to laugh at ourselves and seeing the humor in any situation can reduce stress. Take a break and watch a funny YouTube clip and just laugh for a minute.
  6. Talk or write it out. Sometimes it’s nice just to get those stressful feelings out. Talk to someone you trust who is no t involved in the stressful situation or write out your feelings. (You can even burn it after if you want.) Writing in a personal journal can be a great stress reliever, and it can provide something great to share with others.
  7. Get pampered. Once in a while, it’s okay to do something you wouldn’t normally do just because you are a wonderful person and you deserve it. For example, get a massage, buy yourself a small treat or stop just to smell the roses or enjoy the sunset.
  8. Seek social support. This is the single most important buffer against stress. It is important to share problems and seek advice from people you trust.
  9. Enjoy leisure activities. Research suggests that leisure activities can be an effective way to ward off the negative effects of stress. Hobbies and other fun activities provide a meaningful way to sharpen skills, express creativity or just blow off steam.
    • Drawing can get you in touch with your artistic side and be useful as a way to process emotions or distract yourself. The end result will be something beautiful and personal that you can enjoy or share. Painting has similar stress management benefits as drawing but through a different medium. Coloring is the new adult stress management tool. There are many online tools and even adult coloring books available.
    • Gardening can be a great stress reliever as you are out in the sunshine, fresh air and have the satisfaction of sprucing up your home!
    • The repetitive motion required for knitting and crocheting can provide an outlet for nervous energy while creating beautiful gifts for yourself or others.
    • Photography can be a great hobby to help you see things differently as you look through the lens. You have a hobby to call your own, and you see the world as a more beautiful place in your daily life.
  10. Make the choice. Look for the good things in your day instead of the negatives. Positive thinking is a choice. You’ll begin to notice “gifts” that you previously took for granted. The frazzled mentality will disappear, and you will become less stressed. A positive attitude can’t change a negative situation into a positive one, but it can help you enjoy the ride a lot more.

This article was written by Cindy Nelson, Utah State University Extension assistant professor

 




Preparing Your Home for Winter

winterize-home

It’s time to start preparing for the winter months. Preparation now will help prevent damage to your home later and will save energy and money. You can spread these home projects out over several weeks to make it easier.


 

  1. Check seals around doors and windows: You may be surprised by the little cracks and spaces that heat can escape through during the winter.  Look around window frames for any cracks on the outside and apply caulk.  Check on air leakage around electrical outlets and switch plates. You can install insulation or outlet gaskets very easily.
  2. Inspect furnace and filters: Have the furnace checked for efficiency and clean or replace filters. If a furnace has a dirty filter, it will not function as efficiently.  Air vents also fall into this category; be sure to vacuum them and check for possible leaks that decrease efficiency in the home.
  3. Reverse ceiling fan blades. Most ceiling fans have a switch to reverse the direction of the blades. The clockwise rotation forces warm air down where people can enjoy it rather than allowing it to escape to the ceiling area.
  4. Clean chimneys: Since ash and creosote can build up in a chimney, it is important to have a professional clean it at least every other year, or more if you use it frequently. You can use a flashlight to check for bird nests or other items that may be blocking any part of the chimney.
  5. Drain outdoor hoses and faucets: Water expands when it freezes and can ruin faucets and hoses if they aren’t properly taken care of. After draining pipes, store hoses indoors. Cover outdoor faucets with insulated frost-free hose bib covers.
  6. Wrap indoor pipes: Pipes may be exposed to the cold in the basement, inside cabinets or in the attic.  To avoid them bursting from freezing, wrap them in heat tape or tubular pipe insulation sleeves.
  7. Winterize evaporative cooler: Turn off the power and water to the cooler. Turn off water pump and fan, remove them and store indoors. Drain water out of lines and out of the swamp cooler pan. Disconnect the water supply line to the cooler and drain or blow it out to keep any residual water from being trapped in lines and freezing. Place cover or tarp over the cooler and tie it down securely. To prevent warm air from escaping through the ceiling inside the home, close the air diffuser vents and place a diffuser cover over the vent or place an evaporative cooler pillow plug inside the diffuser.
  8. Make necessary repairs on roof: Take a look at your roof and look for any possible places for leaking, missing shingles or weak corners, especially on older homes.
  9. Clean out rain gutters and make repairs: This is especially important for preventing unnecessary damage.  After all the leaves have fallen, you can clean out your gutter and check for possible broken parts.  This helps prevent gutter damming, which happens when draining water gets backed up and leaks into the home.
  10. Mow leaves into the lawn: This will act as mulch and help nourish your lawn during the winter. There is a helpful tutorial at USU Extension’s Live Well Utah blog here.
  11. Prepare the lawn mower for rest: Use all the gas in the lawn mower or add stabilizer to keep it from decomposing over the winter and causing problems when it’s time to use it again.
  12. Pull out the snow removal equipment: Gather snow blower, fuel, snow shovels and chemical ice melt, and place in a readily accessible location.
  13. Check or replace emergency supplies: Inspect fire extinguishers, batteries, candles, flashlights and propane lanterns or heaters.
  14. Check smoke and carbon monoxide detectors: Make sure they are working properly.  Carbon monoxide is a dangerous, odorless gas produced by gas furnaces and ranges.
  15. Replace light bulbs in exterior light fixtures: This will provide safety in lighting up walkways and steps during the dark winter nights.

 


This article was written by Kirsten Lamplugh, USU Extension Intern, Salt Lake County and Marilyn Albertson, Utah State University Extension Associate Professor, Salt Lake County

Resources: 

energy.gov   Cozy Up to Colder Weather: 5 Ways to Prepare Your Home for Fall and Winter (parts 1 and 2)

Style at Home How to Prepare Your Home for Winter.

https://extension.usu.edu/htm/news-multimedia/articleID=2129  Ask a specialist: Do you have tips for winterizing my home?  Richard Beard, Utah State University Extension Agricultural Engineering Specialist,  2006




Using Herbs and Spices // Keep the Flavor, Lose the Calories

Herbs and Spices.jpg

Charlemagne, Emperor of Rome, known for his good health, said, “An herb is the friend of physicians and the praise of cooks.” Try these tips for using herbs as a healthy and flavorful alternative to fats, sugar and salt.


 

If you are trying to find ways to lower the amount of sugar, fat, and salt in your diet, you may find that herbs and spices are a good solution.

Using Herbs to Reduce Fat, Sugar and Salt

Fat, sugar and salt all add flavor to the foods we eat and enjoy.  They also add calories and cholesterol.  We can add flavor to many foods and decrease the fat, sugar and salt by using herbs and spices in many recipes.

One tablespoon of fat can equal 100 calories. A great substitute is to purchase fat-free salad dressing, margarine, yogurt, sour cream and cream cheese, then add flavorings of your choice with herbs such as thyme, rosemary or tarragon.  You will be surprised at the great flavor they provide without adding calories.

Herbs and spices can also reduce the amount of sugar you may need in foods.  Ginger, whether fresh or dried, is an excellent sweetener.  Keep a little ginger root in your freezer and grate off the desired amount when cooking.  Carrots, sweet potatoes and other foods combined with a little ginger root are sweet and tasty.

Herbs and spices can complement nearly all cooking.  Using them will help reduce the amount of salt your recipe may need.  You will find that you can flavor with the herb, then leave out some of the salt.

Experiment with spices and herbs in your sauces, vegetables, drinks or desserts.  Keep in mind that the amount you use and when you add it to your ingredients will depend on if you are using fresh or dried herbs.  If using fresh herbs, you will add three times the amount of dried.  Dried herbs are added at the beginning of cooking, and fresh herbs are added at the end of the cooking time.  Store fresh herbs in the refrigerator and dried herbs in the cupboard out of direct sunlight.  If you add a little too much seasoning when cooking, throw in a piece of potato and let it absorb the extra flavor.  Remove before serving.

These herbs are some that I wouldn’t want to be without.  They add flavor to many foods:

  • Basil is absolutely essential for Italian cooking. I can’t imagine a summer without fresh pesto.
  • Chives are prized for both their extensive cooking applications and their gorgeous silhouette in the garden.
  • Cilantro is used liberally in Latin American cooking, and its cool flavor is one of my year-round favorites. I love pomegranate and cilantro salsa.
  • Tall dill plants waving in the breeze are a welcome sight in any garden. The seeds and herb are used in all sorts of vegetable recipes and bottled pickles.
  • Although mint has the tendency to take over wherever it is planted, the aromatic herb adds pizzazz to summertime lemonade, smoothies and is refreshing in teas and many recipes.
  • Oregano is another Italian food staple, and it’s also wonderful in egg recipes such as omelets.
  • Don’t just use the little sprigs of parsley as plate garnish: toss it into salads, soups and vegetable recipes.
  • Rosemary grows wonderfully in St. George.  On the patio, it is sheltered from the winter cold and the summer heat. Once your taste buds have experienced fresh rosemary, they will go on strike if you serve the dried variety.
  • Thyme, growing in a garden, has an enticing aroma. It’s also a favorite in fish recipes.

Try growing your favorite herbs in the yard, garden boxes, flower pots or even in the house.  They add beauty, flavor, aroma and are a wonderful conversation piece.

Minted Cucumber Salad

  • 4 cucumbers, peeled, halved, seeded and sliced
  • ½ cup fresh mint, chopped
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 orange rind, grated
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 cup red wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup sugar substitute

Toss cucumbers in bowl with mint, rind and parsley.  Whisk oil, vinegar and sugar substitute.  Pour over cucumbers and chill for 4 hours.


This article was written by Carolyn Washburn, Utah State University Extension associate professor, carolyn.washburn@usu.edu.