Be Smart, Eat Well, Get Healthy Sun, 15 May 2005 13:02:08 -0500 Pumpkins! Fri, 20 Oct 2017 11:08:00 +0000 Pumpkins—everyone loves them! We smash them from catapults—carve intricate designs into their flesh—tell stories about them in folklore—Cinderella even rode in one—and Peter-Peter Pumpkin eater put his wife into one---but that's a whole other story…it's pumpkin season. We see them heaped into huge boxes at the grocery store—piled into wagons at roadside stands and growing in the fields as we drive along our country roads. Illinois is pumpkin country. In fact, we raise more pumpkins than any other state—yes, here where corn is king the lowly pumpkin would surely be a prince!

We love their unique shapes vibrant or dusty colors—they make beautiful decorations. But their beauty is more than skin deep. Pumpkins are a "super food"—low calorie and packed with nutrition. I cup of cooked pumpkin contains 49 calories and is a major source of an important antioxidant, beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is one of the plant carotenoids converted to vitamin A in the body.

Current research indicates that a diet rich in foods containing beta-carotene may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer and offers protect against heart disease. Beta-carotene offers protection against other diseases as well as some degenerative aspects of aging.

Wow—if that isn't enough to make you want to try it then consider how versatile it is. Way beyond pumpkin pie, the pulp of this fleshy squash can be used in sloppy joes and savory soups, dried for fruit leather and cut into chunks and roasted. If you don't want to scoop out the stringy seeds and cut up the shell simply buy canned pumpkin. It is just as healthy and chances are it came from Illinois, in fact Morton Illinois is the "Pumpkin Capital of the World",

Impress your friends with these fun facts:

  • The largest pumpkin pie ever made was over five feet in diameter and weighed over 350 pounds. It used 80 pounds of cooked pumpkin, 36 pounds of sugar, 12 dozen eggs and took six hours to bake.
  • Pumpkins are members of the vine crops family called cucurbits.
  • Pumpkins originated in Central America.
  • In early colonial times, pumpkins were used as an ingredient for the crust of pies, not the filling.
  • Pumpkins were once recommended for removing freckles and curing snake bites.

Find more info, recipes and more at:

Why use your slow cooker? Sat, 30 Sep 2017 10:52:00 +0000  

Ah, Fall—it's finally here! Crisp bright days followed by cool nights—football, leaves, pumpkins, slow cookers. Slow cookers? Yes—cool days make us crave comfort foods—warm stews, roasts, and casseroles. It is so nice to walk into the house after a long day to the fragrant smells of supper!

Do you use your slow cooker? Why not? Afraid it's not safe? Too much trouble to drag it out of the cabinet and find a recipe?

You really should try using your slow cooker, here's why:

  • One pot –less prep, less mess
  • Use cheaper cuts of meat—slow cooking tenderizes otherwise tough cuts
  • Food cooks without fats and oil
  • Rely less on prepackaged convenience foods

Here are a few tips to help make your slow cooker one of your favorite kitchen appliances:

  • For easy clean up, spray the inside of the crock with a non-stick cooking spray, before adding ingredients.
  • When cooking meat or poultry, the water or stock level should almost cover the ingredients to ensure effective heat transfer throughout the crock. Water or liquid is necessary to create steam.
  • Place vegetables on the bottom the slow cooker.
  • Fill the crock to a minimum of 1/2 full and a maximum of 2/3 full.

Food safety

  • Thaw frozen meat, poultry, and other ingredients in the refrigerator before adding to the slow cooker.
  • New research conducted by USDA FSIS indicates it is safe to cook large cuts of meat and poultry in a slow cooker. Follow the manufacturer's instructions and safety guidelines.
  • Preheating the crock before adding ingredients or cooking on the highest setting for the first hour, will ensure a rapid heat start. Either will shorten the time foods are in the temperature danger zone.
  • Do not lift the lid or cover unnecessarily during the cooking cycle. Each time the lid is raised, the internal temperature drops 10–15 degrees and the cooking process is slowed by 30 minutes.
  • Use an accurately calibrated food thermometer to test food doneness. The thermometer should be inserted in the thickest part away from bone. Safe internal temperatures: USDA FSIS
  • Do not leave cooked food to cool down in the crock. Either consume it immediately or place leftovers in shallow containers and refrigerate immediately. It is not recommended or safe to reheat leftovers in a slow cooker. Heat leftovers in the oven, microwave, or stovetop, until it reaches 165°F and then add to a preheated slow cooker. In the slow cooker, food should remain hot for serving, 140°F or above, as measured by a calibrated food thermometer.


  • Most cookers have two or more settings. Foods take different times to cook depending upon the setting used. Certainly, foods will cook faster on high than on low. However, for all-day cooking or for less-tender cuts, you may want to use the low setting.
  • If possible, turn the cooker on the highest setting for the first hour of cooking time and then to low or the setting called for in your recipe. However, it's safe to cook foods on low the entire time — if you're leaving for work, for example, and preparation time is limited.
  • While food is cooking and once it's done, food will stay safe as long as the cooker is operating.

Power Outage

  • If you are not at home during the entire slow-cooking process and the power goes out, throw away the food even if it looks done.
  • If you are at home, finish cooking the ingredients immediately by some other means: on a gas stove, on the outdoor grill or at a house where the power is on.
  • When you are at home, and if the food was completely cooked before the power went out, the food should remain safe up to two hours in the cooker with the power off.

Slow Cooker Test for Safety

A safe slow cooker, cooks slow enough for unattended cooking, yet fast enough to keep food out of the bacterial danger zone (above 40◦F to below 140◦F). In the danger zone, bacteria grows very rapidly. Food left in the danger zone too long can cause food borne illness. To determine if a slow cooker is safe to use:

1. Fill the slow cooker one-half to two-thirds full of tap water.

2. Heat on a low setting for 8 hours with the lid on.

3. Check the water temperature with an accurate food thermometer. Do this quickly because the temperature drops 10–15 degrees when the lid is raised or removed.

4. The temperature of the water should be 185°F. Temperatures below 185°F would indicate the slow cooker does not heat food high enough or fast enough to avoid potential food safety problems; the slow cooker is unsafe and should be replaced.

USDA slow cooker safety.htm


Try these recieps:

Snacks on the Go Fri, 08 Sep 2017 11:05:00 +0000  

This time of year finds families scrambling into the chaotic fall school activity and sport schedules. In addition to making sure your young athletes have the necessary sport gear, it is also important that you make sure they are fueled up for their game or match.

Many young athletes have nothing to eat from their 11:00 lunch time until after the game or practice. This leaves them hungry and not able to play up to their potential. They need a snack but, how can you avoid the drive-through?

As with many stressful situations this can be handled with a little organization. Plan ahead. What can you pack that requires little prep and is still safe and nutritious? Instead of the standard granola bar—that may be nutrient void—or the bag of chips that most certainly is---try one of these suggestions.

Make your own snack mix of dried fruit, whole grain cereal, unsalted nuts and pretzels. Mix up a large batch and then put a serving (1/2 cup) into a snack bag.

According to the USDA's children should have 1 ½ -2 cups of fruit and 2-3 cups of vegetables daily. An afterschool snack is the perfect opportunity to get more fruits and veggies into your child's diet.

Fresh fruit requires no refrigeration and is the perfect energy source for a game or workout. You could also send cut up carrots and celery with some peanut butter for a protein packed energy boost.

My favorite recipe, included at the end of this article, using the super food pumpkin, is sure to be a crowd pleaser. Just mix it up the night before, toss it into a lunch box with a stay cool pack along with some whole grain crackers, cut up fruit and or veggies and it will disappear!

So, breathe deeply the crisp fall air, enjoy your children and tame the chaos with some simple steps toward good health.

Pumpkin Peanut Butter Dip


¾ cup peanut butter

1-4 Tbsp. brown sugar, to taste

1 tsp. vanilla

  1. 1. Mix peanut butter and brown sugar.
  2. Add vanilla and stir.
  3. Add pumpkin and stir until well blended.
  4. Serve with graham crackers, bread, apple slices, celery sticks, etc.

Nutrition Facts (per 1 Tablespoon) - Calories50~ fat2.5g~ calories from fat20~ sodium25mg~ total carbohydrate7g~ fiber0g ~total 40 TBS

Salsa, Salsa, Salsa! Fri, 04 Aug 2017 11:54:00 +0000  

No, I'm not talking about learning to dance! I'm talking tomatoes! Are you up to your elbows in tomatoes? Are they lining up on your kitchen counter like an army of red soldiers? Are you using baskets of tomatoes as doorstops? What are you going to do with all those tomatoes? Relax, here are a few easy recipes that you can make in a snap. Tomatoes are such a versatile food—you can cook them, bake them, put them in a pie—you can even eat them plain, unadorned, straight from the garden!

And, they are good for you! They are a super food loaded with lycopene, antioxidants, fiber and vitamins! The carotenoid antioxidants protect against prostate, digestive, and pancreatic cancers. Recent studies show that a diet rich in tomatoes lowers the levels of inflammatory stress markers noted in the development of cardiovascular disease. In addition to these health benefits, in a German study, participants who consumed tomato products 2 to 3 times per week showed less likelihood of sunburn when exposed to UV light.

Source: Penn State Extension

Fresh ripe tomatoes should not be stored in the refrigerator. Unfortunately, refrigeration renders them tasteless and turns the flesh to mealy mush. Flavor and texture begin to deteriorate when the temperature drops below 54°F. Temperatures above 80°F cause tomatoes to spoil quickly. Store tomatoes at room temperature for 2 to 3 days, away from direct sunlight until ready to use (sunlight hastens ripening).

To ripen tomatoes, place them in a paper bag, stem end up. Punch several holes all around the bag and fold the top over. The bag will help to keep some of the natural ethylene gas in place, which aids in the ripening process.

Once cut, tomatoes should be stored in the refrigerator. Ideally cut tomatoes just prior to serving and use any leftovers in a cooked tomato recipe to avoid the mushy, tasteless result mentioned above.

Source: University of Illinois Extension

If you would like to preserve tomatoes, you can easily freeze them. Simply, wash core and cut into halves or quarters. Place in a freezer container or bag, leaving an inch of headspace. Use them in sauces and soups. The skin comes off easily as you thaw them by running cool water over the surface. Canning information can be found at

So, don't say "no thanks" when someone offers you a sack of tomatoes—embrace them—but not too hard—they will squish….

Corn and Tomato Sauté

2 teaspoons canola oil

1 cup fresh corn kernels (about 2 ears)

1/2 cup onion, diced

1 pound tomatoes, diced

1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon, or basil

1/4 teaspoon salt, optional

Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add corn and onion. Cook about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, tarragon (or basil), and salt.

University of Delaware Extension

Baked Parmesan Tomatoes

4 tomatoes, halved horizontally

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 450° F. Place tomatoes cut-side up on a baking sheet. Top with Parmesan, oregano, salt and pepper. Drizzle with oil and bake until the tomatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

University of Delaware Extension

Grilled Zucchini-Tomato Toastie(Serves 4)


1/4 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise or softened cream cheese
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper


1 medium zucchini
1 medium tomato, thinly sliced
4 slices part-skim mozzarella cheese
8 slices bread or roll, preferably whole-grain
softened butter or oil

1. Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat
2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, garlic, oregano, basil, salt, and pepper.
3. Wash and cut both ends off zucchini. With a grater, shred zucchini into small pieces.
4. To assemble sandwiches, spread mayonnaise mixture evenly on 4 slices of bread. Top each slice with shredded zucchini, one tomato slice, and one slice of cheese. Top sandwiches with remaining bread slices.
5. Spread a small amount ofsoftened butteron both sides of each sandwich. Add to skillet and cook 2-3 minutes or until lightly brown. Flip sandwiches and grill on second side about 2 minutes or until lightly brown and cheese is melted.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 280 calories, 13g fat, 540mg sodium, 29g carbohydrate, 5g fiber, 13g protein

Source: Kirby's Kitchen, University of Illinois Extension

Green Tomato Crisp(serves 9)

4 cups chopped green tomatoes
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour or whole-wheat flour

Crumb Topping
1/4 cup all-purpose flour or whole-wheat flour
1/4 cup old-fashioned rolled or quick oats
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
3 Tbsp cooking oil

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Combine all filling ingredients in a bowl, stirring to coat all tomato pieces. Spread into a greased 9x9-inch baking dish.
3. Combine flour, oats, and brown sugar in a medium bowl. Drizzle oil over flour mixture and toss until crumbly. Sprinkle over filling.
4. Bake uncovered 30-45 minutes or until filling is bubbling and topping is golden brown.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 180 calories, 5g fat, 140mg sodium, 33g carbohydrate, 1g fiber, 2g protein

Source: Kirby's Kitchen, University of Illinois Extension

Fresh Garden Salsa

2 large ripe, red slicing tomatoes, cored and chopped
1 small white onion, chopped
1 green onion, top included, chopped
1 to 3 jalapeno peppers, finely chopped
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, minced
Juice of lime
Salt to taste

Using a serrated knife, chop tomatoes. If using plum tomatoes, add 2 tablespoons water. In a medium bowl, toss together the tomatoes, onions, peppers, and cilantro. Squeeze lime juice over the mixture and sprinkle with salt. Allow to rest 30 minutes before serving to allow salt to draw juice from the tomatoes. Stir again just before serving

University of Illinois Extension

Tomato Corn Pesto Pizza

3 plum or Roma tomatoes

¼ teaspoon onion powder teaspoon freshly ground or seasoned pepper

½ cup basil pesto 1 (14-16 ounce)

whole wheat or regular packaged pre-baked thin pizza crust

1 cup fresh corn kernels

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon honey

4 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese

3 tablespoons fresh whole or torn basil leaves, (optional)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Slice tomatoes into ¼ inch slices; place tomato slices on paper towels; sprinkle with onion powder and pepper; let stand 20 minutes. Spread pizza crust with pesto. Stir together corn kernels, Parmesan cheese and honey. Top pizza with corn mixture, tomato slices and mozzarella cheese. Place pizza directly on middle oven rack; bake approximately 12-14 minutes or until cheese is melted and golden. Remove from oven and top with fresh basil leaves, if desired. Cut into 8 slices.

Nutritional Analysis(1 slice): 290 calories, 13 g fat, 4.5 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 590 mg sodium, 29 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, 3 g sugar, 14 g protein

Corn Dogs and Cotton Candy! Fri, 21 Jul 2017 13:31:00 +0000 Corn dogs and cotton candy---what trip to the fair would be complete without them? Ask anyone what they enjoy most about the fair and many will say ---THE FOOD! The once a year treat can pack some big calories into your regular diet, so here are a few tips.

Most of us know that the "Doughnut Burger" is probably a bad choice (1500 calories). However, we might be surprised by the better choices. Are you a sweet tooth person ? Or is it the salty snacks that you crave? Either way be prepared to amp up your exercise routine to "pay" for fair food. So, just what are we talking about? What's a few fair treats going to hurt?

Well, for example, the fried onion blossom will set you back 1320 calories! You can have one and then walk around the fairgrounds for 4 hours and 25 minutes to burn it off! Are funnel cakes your weakness? A plain one with powdered sugar topping has 760 calories; a measly 2 hours and 50 minutes will take care of its calories. At this rate the 620 calorie curly fries seem almost like health food! Pizza on a stick, fried butter, chocolate covered bacon, the list is endless.

What is a better choice at the fair? Remember anything you eat at the fair is classified as a "Sometimes" food, rather than an "Everyday" food—so know that you will consume some extra calories and fat. That being said you might opt for cotton candy at 171 calories or a chocolate covered banana with the benefit of a serving of fruit and 240 calories. Actually in the deep fried category, corn dogs weigh in at 250 calories—that's much better than a doughnut burger!

Am I saying that you shouldn't eat at the fair?---Absolutely NOT! The fair comes once a year, treat yourself to your favorite. Just remember to plan the days around your fair trip accordingly---increase your fruits and veggies along with exercise. When you go to the fair, walk around the grounds, visit the livestock and then the memory of your trip to the fair will not be a bigger pant size, rather a mental picture of a time well spent.

Canning your Garden Produce Fri, 14 Jul 2017 15:26:00 +0000 How does your garden grow? Are you struggling with baskets of green beans and bushels of cucumbers? You could give the excess away and that is a great idea. Or you could preserve the produce so your family can enjoy your garden long after the first frost of winter.

Yes, You Can! ! Everyone is doing it from Paula Deen to Alton Brown---canning is trendy. Eat local; reduce your carbon footprint is the battle cry from the home canning sector—and they are right.

Food is better when you grow it yourself or know who did. But, before you dust off Grandma's canner let's talk about safety. Make sure your canner has the UL seal of approval and follow the manufacturer's directions exactly.

Never use the open kettle or oven methods of canning---these methods are not safe! Do not "make up" recipes or add extra ingredients. Only use recipes from USDA, National Center for Home Food Preservation, name brand canning supply companies or Extension. Canning is a scientific process that can safely preserve the taste of summer, if you follow some basic guidelines.

Begin with wholesome, unblemished fruits and vegetables. Wash both the produce and your hands after coming in from the garden; it's best to use warm water. The deadly microbe Clostridium botulinum lives in the soil and on most fresh food surfaces—it really does not pose a threat until it is exposed to its favorite environment—the moist, low acid, no oxygen atmosphere inside a canning jar full of food. This deadly germ can be killed by using an approved canner and following research based recipes.

For more info go to:

Or call your local Extension office to register for "hands on" workshops!

Happy Canning!

Quick Fresh-Pack Dill Pickles

8 lbs. of 3- to 5- inch pickling cucumbers

2 gals. water

1 ¼ cups canning or pickling salt (divided)

1 ½ qts. vinegar (5%)

¼ cup sugar

2 qts. water

2 Tbsp whole mixed pickling spice

About 3 Tbsp whole mustard seed (1 tsp per pint jar)

About 14 heads of fresh dill (1 ½ heads per pint jar) or 4 ½ Tbsp dill seed (1 ½ tsp per pint jar)

Yield: About 7 to 9 pints

Wash cucumbers. Cut 1/16 inch slice off blossom end and discard, but leave ¼ inch of stem attached. Dissolve ¾ cup salt in 2 gallons water. Pour over cucumbers and let stand 12 hours. Drain. Combine vinegar, ½ cup salt, sugar, and 2 quarts water. Add mixed pickling spices tied in a clean white cloth. Heat to boiling. Fill hot jars with cucumbers. Add 1 tsp mustard seed and 1 ½ heads fresh dill per pint. Cover with boiling pickling solution, leaving ½ inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace if needed. Wipe rims of jars with dampened clean paper towel. Adjust lids and process as below.

At altitude 0-1,000 feet process pints for 10 minutes and quarts for 15 minutes in a boiling-water canner.

Herbs Fri, 30 Jun 2017 15:28:00 +0000 Did you bring some herb plants home from the garden center this spring? Herbs are wonderful plants, hardy, fragrant and beautiful. Many of us, me included, often bring herbs home, plant them and then rarely use them in cooking. Why not?

It's thyme, (pun intended), to cook with herbs. As a rule, use twice the amount of fresh as you would dry herbs in a recipe. Add herbs toward the end of cooking time to ensure a bright flavor. You can cut back on the salt in a recipe by using herbs to enhance flavor.

Try lemon balm with asparagus, or chives with cooked beet greens. Mint is good with any fruit and it even pairs well with sweet peas. Snip some tarragon into cooked rice and next time you cook eggs try adding parsley, thyme or marjoram.

Lay bunches of fresh herbs directly on hot coals when grilling to give meat a boost of flavor. Don't be afraid to experiment!

Preserve herbs by chopping and freezing them in ice cube trays, pop out the frozen blocks and store in freezer bags. If you have used them in cooking and frozen all you will need for next winter, you can always make a fresh bouquet—it will make your house smell great!


Fresh Herb Butter

1 cup margarine or butter 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

1 Tablespoon chopped fresh green basil 1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 Tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

1 Tablespoon chopped fresh chives Salt and pepper (optional)

Chop herbs fairly fine. Blend all herbs, garlic, lemon juice and salt and pepper into margarine or butter with a spoon. Form into a roll and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate or freeze. Best prepared a day ahead to blend flavors. Use on baked potatoes, grilled or broiled steak, tossed with hot pasta, or spread on bread and enjoy.

Yield: 16 tablespoons.

Nutrient analysis per 1 tablespoon serving (approximately as analysis varies with type of low-fat margarine used): 51 calories, 0grams protein, trace carbohydrate, 6 grams fat, 0milligrams cholesterol, 120 milligrams sodium.

Lemon Balm Vinaigrette Dressing

3 Tablespoons olive oil

2 Tablespoons wine vinegar

6-8 lemon balm leaves, finely chopped

1/8 teaspoon salt

Black pepper to taste

Whisk together all ingredients. Stir or shake ingredients before serving. Store dressing in the refrigerator. Serve over lettuce salad, steamed vegetables, or use as a marinade for fish or chicken.

Vary dressing by choosing different oils, vinegars and herbs. Oils: Grapeseed, olive or peanut;

Vinegar: white, red wine or herb; Other herbs: tarragon, basil, thyme, marjoram.

Nutrient analysis per 1 Tablespoon Serving: 48 calories, 0 grams protein, 3 grams fat, 0 milligrams cholesterol, 5 grams carbohydrates, 0 milligrams sodium