Know How, Know More Connecting You with Your Food, Farmers and Community Sun, 15 May 2005 13:02:08 -0500 Take a (Holiday) Dip Tue, 05 Dec 2017 17:00:00 +0000
Thanks to the Mt. Zion District Library for hosting us for a hands-on class making dips for the holidays.  With an unexpected combination of ingredients, the Peanut Butter Pumpkin Dip was a favorite of the group.  Which one will you try?

Red Pepper Hummus (Serves 10)

Hummus can be high in calories, so be mindful of how much you eat. Try with pita chips, toasted pita bread, or vegetable sticks.

15 oz can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup roasted red bell pepper, from jar and drained
1/4 cup tahini (sesame seed paste) or peanut butter
juice of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp chopped garlic
1 tsp ground cumin

1. In a food processor, add garbanzo beans, bell peppers, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, and cumin. Puree until smooth.
2. Transfer to a serving bowl. Garnish with 2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley, if desired.
3. Serve immediately or refrigerate until serving. If kept at room temperature, throw out after 2 hours.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 130 calories, 7g fat, 110mg sodium, 13g carbohydrate, 1g fiber, 4g protein

Adapted from: Kirby Medical Center, Monticello, IL

Peanut Butter Pumpkin Dip (Serves 12)

Serve with graham crackers, apple slices, or celery sticks.

3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1 Tbsp brown sugar
3/4 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Mix peanut butter and brown sugar in a medium bowl.
2. Add pumpkin and vanilla and stir until well blended.
3. Serve immediately or refrigerate until serving. If kept at room temperature, throw out after 2 hours.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 110 calories, 8g fat, 70mg sodium, 6g carbohydrate, 1g fiber, 4g protein

Adapted from: Illinois Nutrition Education Programs

Cranberry Orange Cream Cheese (Serves 12)

Try as a sandwich spread with leftover turkey meat or with crackers.

1 (8-oz) block reduced-fat cream cheese
1 cup fresh cranberries
1 orange
2 Tbsp honey

1. Let cream cheese sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.
2. In a food processor or blender, pulse cranberries until chopped into small pieces.
3. Zest orange to remove only the orange peel.
4. In a medium bowl, combine cream cheese, chopped cranberries, orange zest, and honey.
5. Serve immediately or refrigerate until serving. If kept at room temperature, throw out after 2 hours.

Tips for zesting: Avoid the white pith, which is bitter. A cheese grater works if you do not have a traditional zester.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 60 calories, 4g fat, 85mg sodium, 5g carbohydrate, 0g fiber, 1g protein

Today's post was written by Caitlin Huth. Caitlin Huth, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian and Nutrition & Wellness Educator serving DeWitt, Macon, and Piatt Counties. She teaches nutrition- and food-based lessons around heart health, food safety, diabetes, and others. In all classes, she encourages trying new foods, gaining confidence in healthy eating, and getting back into our kitchens.

Worm Aversion Conversion Tue, 28 Nov 2017 09:21:00 +0000  

I have been composting yard and organic material for a while now, and will continue to do so. However, when I just have just a few food scraps, sometimes it can be inconvenient either to carry them outside to the compost pile, or to save to do later. Deciding to add options to my repertoire, I thought I'd give worm composting, also called vermicomposting, a try. Laziness and thinking of impending winter was part of my impetus to try indoor composting, I admit, but also I was just curious about it!

If you're even slightly curious too, here are a few facts to whet your appetite:

  • Red Wrigglers (or just plain red worms as anglers commonly know them) are the worm of choice for vermicomposting. Their scientific name is Eisenia fetida: Pronounced "iSEEnee a FETid a".
  • Happiest at temperatures between 50-70 degrees, they are adaptable to spans of 40-80 degrees.
  • Unlike earthworms, who carry their food deep into the soil, red worms are surface feeders. This makes them more ideally suited to live indoors.
  • Red worms can eat half their body weight in food each day. One pound of worms will consume about one-half pound food daily or about three and a half pounds each week!
  • They reproduce much faster than earthworms, and providing the living conditions are correct, can double in population every three months.
  • Vermiculture does not take much space, and produces little to no odor.
  • Vermiculture is an easy way to reduce uneaten food ending up in landfills, where improper de-composting conditions create methane gas as a by-product.
  • Vermiculture composting by-product is worm castings, a powerful additive increasing soil fertility.

I started my ready-made worm bin about three months ago. Cost for speciality made worm bins range from about sixty to a hundred dollars, but can be easily made from large rubber storage totes. Worms can be purchased on-line or even at local bait shops.

I’m not going to say I wasn’t somewhat apprehensive at first. I love science and nature as much as the next person, but I wasn't sure how I felt about growing worms, indoors!

Forging ahead anyway, I set up the bin, purchased 1000 worms (about one pound's worth) and proceeded with caution by adding a half-cup of vegetable peelings. A few days later, someone threw in a whole banana peel….gasp! A week and half-later, no visible banana peel left or whatever else I had initially added either, what was it again?

Astounding, right? I thought it was, and my worm aversion conversion was complete! The worms are now eating much of the daily kitchen scraps, and the little Adam-ily Family pets are so appreciated.

This is the classic reduce, recycle, reuse mantra come to life, literally! Reduce the amount of food waste in the first place, of course. Reuse by finding uses for the half container of sour cream, and by eating leftovers from last night's dinner. Recycle anything you can, including food. I will add a third R here: re-purpose composted food scraps into wonderful plant fertilizer.

I still get a little amazed and always grateful for the transformation that takes place in my outdoor bin, turning organic material into that wonderfully brown black, nutrient rich substance called compost. However, I'm happy my occasional laziness and curiosity compelled me to try the fast, up-close and personal method of vermicomposting.

This might be a fun and educational thing to do with your family over the holiday, and a topic to talk about with friends when break is over. If you don't get a chance to try it before then, consider signing up for a vermiculture workshop scheduled on February 10 at the Macon Extension office; all ages welcome.

For a nice primer on the subject, see below- or as always contact your local Extension office for more information!

Container Gardening: Beyond the Basics Wed, 15 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Limited on gardening space where you live? Or do you have only limited time available to garden? Container gardening may be the choice for you, especially if you live in an urban setting with limited growing space.

With simple materials like a large container, a bag of potting mix, and a few plants or seeds, you can grow a variety of ornamental and edible plants to liven up your home and provide food for your family.

Here are a few Container Gardening Basics:


  • Whichever container you choose to grow in, it should have several drainage holes.
  • It should also be large enough to hold plenty of soil to grow your plants to adequate size.
  • Self-watering containers are a great option if you're not able to water as often as necessary for a container garden. These containers hold a reservoir of water that provides adequate water for at least several days.
  • Read on about how to make a simple self-watering container with an 18 gallon tote or 5-gallon bucket.
  • Or watch how to make one here.


  • Use a store-bought potting soil mix or make your own using equal parts peat, perlite, and top soil.
  • Avoid using only soil from your garden, as it is heavy, compacts very easily, and may bring pests along with it.


  • Consider adding finished compost or a slow release fertilizer to your container soil to improve soil quality and fertility.
  • If no fertilizer is initially added, a store-bought liquid fertilizer should be applied every few weeks.

Light and Temperature

  • Place containers according to the light and temperature requirements of the plants within.
  • Containers with shade plants are great for under the front porch or on the north and east sides of the home, while full sun containers grow well on the south and west sides.
  • Containers can also be grown indoors in a sunny window or under grow lights.
Container Design
  • A variety of shapes, textures, and colors of plants create a pleasing design.
  • Fill your container with a "Thriller" plant that adds height to the container, a "Filler" that will bush out and fill the middle, and a "Spiller" plant that cascade down to soften the container's appearance.
  • Watch Candice put together a container using the thriller, filler, spiller method here.

Container Assembly

  • Thoroughly clean your container and add moistened soil to about 2" below the rim of the container.
  • Place plants in holes roughly the size of their roots, pat soil gently around them, and water thoroughly.
  • Don't worry about overcrowding plants in a container, as they'll only be grown in a container for a short season typically.
  • Water when the top inch of soil feels dry, until water freely flows from drainage holes.
  • If your container is extremely dry (soil is pulling away from container sides) you will need to partially submerge the base of the container until the top of the soil becomes moist from uptake through the drainage holes.


  • Cut back stems if plants become too spindly and remove dead flowers to promote more blooms
  • When the season is over, remove annuals from the soil and store container. If your container plants had diseases, discard the soil and start fresh next season.


Watch it!

For a more in-depth look at how to create an eye-catching winter container gardencheck out this video tutorial.

Learn More!

Read all about Container Gardening 101 in this printable two page sheet.

Visit our Successful Container Gardens website for more detailed information about container gardens and our Beyond, Impatiens and Petunias page for great container plant recommendations.
Slow Cookers: Beyond the Basics Wed, 15 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000
Are You Being Food-Safe With Your Slow Cooker?
Check your steps when using a slow cooker and make sure you are not likely to make yourself or your family sick.

1. Fill cooker between half to two-thirds full.
2. Under-filling may lead to dry foods. Over-filling may lead to unsafely cooked foods.
3. Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours of turning off cooker.
4. If you do not know how long you were without power, throw away the food.
For more tips, watch the Slow Cooker Food Safety video and read the handout.

What To Do With An Old Slow Cooker

Test the cooker with water and see what temperature it reaches.  Watch the video - Testing Old Slow Cookers - for specific instructions, or read the directions below.

Recipe Ideas

Are you wanting new slow cooker recipe ideas?  Watch three recipe videos with step-by-step instructions, and find the recipes for printing in the handout.

Adapt Your Recipes

If you have an oven or stovetop recipe you want to try in a slow cooker, adjust with these tips in the infographic.  Feel free to pin this one for future reference.  For more details on these five tips, read the main handout.

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Introducing: Know How, Know More Mon, 13 Nov 2017 10:33:00 +0000 Coming this week, our Buckets, Bales, and Bushels blog will become Know How, Know More. Don't fret, the new Know How, Know More will have the same great content, just with some additional avenues of learning!

Here at University of Illinois Extension, we love creating content on food, gardening, farming and more, but we realize that simply reading a blog post may not be the best learning avenue for everyone. Some of our readers may be visual learners and prefer to watch a video to learn how to do something, while others may prefer to listen to podcasts, or they may like each step outlined in a factsheet that's easy to print and read.

In our new Beyond the Basics posts, we'll have several different methods of learning to cover one topic. Launching this Wednesday, you can learn all about Slow Cooker Meals, Container Gardening, and Herbicide Safety.

Look for a new in depth topic debuting each month in addition to our normal weekly posts that you've come to love on the blog. Let us know how you like the new format!

No-Cut Veggies Tue, 07 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 1. Pour from the bag. In a store, these veggies are often pre-bagged for purchase. Wash with clean water before eating raw or cooking. Mini bell peppers have few seeds, and can be eaten in a couple bits. If your bagged radishes are very large, they may need some cutting.


  • Baby carrots
  • Snap and snow peas
  • Mini bell peppers
  • Radishes

2. Prep by-hand. Some veggies just need your hands to prepare. Bend asparagus until the top snaps off. The rule-of-thumb is that wherever it breaks separates the tender top from the tough, woody bottom. For lettuce, tear leaves with clean hands.


  • Asparagus
  • Heads of lettuce

3. Grab from the produce bin. Grape and cherry tomatoes just need a wash before eating and are a popular staple for veggie trays. Have you noticed baby potatoes in your local stores? These small, bite-sized potatoes can be cut, but work well cooked just as they are. If your store does Brussel sprouts in bulk bins, these too can be cooked whole.


  • Grape and cherry tomatoes
  • Baby potatoes
  • Brussel sprouts

4. Eat from the center and frozen aisles.

From the center and frozen aisles, pick up canned and frozen vegetables. As these produce are packed soon after harvest, they are a good source of many vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. If available, buy reduced-sodium or no-salt-added brands.

With vegetable chips, many brands are exploring dried beet, parsnip, and kale chips, among other veggies. Look at the ingredient list to ensure you are getting those veggies, rather than a blend with just a flavoring of those veggies.


  • Canned and frozen vegetables
  • Dried vegetable chips

Today's post was written by Caitlin Huth. Caitlin Huth, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian and Nutrition & Wellness Educator serving DeWitt, Macon, and Piatt Counties. She teaches nutrition- and food-based lessons around heart health, food safety, diabetes, and others. In all classes, she encourages trying new foods, gaining confidence in healthy eating, and getting back into our kitchens.

Time to Bring in Those Cold Sensitive Plants Mon, 23 Oct 2017 10:01:00 +0000 For us here in Central Illinois, it appears as though a hard frost will finally reach us this week, which means it's time for gardeners to bring any plants worth saving indoors. Whether that means the houseplants we put on the patio for the summer, or the geraniums we want to try and overwinter for next year. I know my patio in particular, is full of succulent pots and orchids that will need to be brought in before frost.

But, how can I bring my houseplants in from outside without bringing in spiders or other insects with it?

We once had a call at the Extension office from a gardener who had found a garden snake in her guest room. Upon further questioning, we realized that she had recently brought her houseplants back inside, but with an added visitor this time. Insects are a concern, but other critters can certainly hitch a ride as well.

There are a few strategies in order to help ensure clean plants bring brought back in:

1. Clean up the plants: First remove any dead or dying foliage and spent flowers. Give the container a very thorough watering to flush out any potential insects. Let water run fully through the container at least several times.

2. Spray down with the hose: Spray the above ground portions of the plant well with the hose to blast off any insects, making sure to get the undersides of the leaves and stems as well.

3. Submerge the root ball: If you are concerned about insects in the soil, consider submerging the plant's root ball. Submerging smaller plants in water for 15 minutes can help send insects that were in the soil scrambling for higher ground. I wouldn't recommend this strategy for plants that prefer a dry soil, as the soil will be very saturated after this soaking. Also, not recommended for plants that you are bringing in to go dormant, like succulents for examples. These need dry soil through their dormant period.

Bring containers inside to the garage after submerging to allow them to dry out a bit before bringing in the house. Continue to monitor your watering well after this to ensure that the plant is not overwatered.

4. Scrub the pots well: Scrub your containers thoroughly before bringing them in. Spiders like dark moist places on the bottoms of pots to leave their eggs to hatch.

5. Move to a shady area: Not so much for insects, but for the health of your plants. Move your containers to a shadier area for a few days to slowly acclimate them to lower light conditions. This can help prevent some of the yellowing and leaf drop that normally occurs when bringing plants from outdoors to inside.

6. Repot and prune if necessary: If the plant has outgrown the container, consider repotting it into a container that is at least 2" larger. If pruning is necessary, do not remove more than 1/3 of the growth.

If these strategies are followed, you should be able to ensure a clean and healthy plant to enjoy indoors again for the winter.