Simply Nutritious, Quick and Delicious Jenna Smith, Extension Educator brings you helpful tips to make meals easy, healthy and tasty! Sun, 15 May 2005 13:02:08 -0500 Oysters for the Holidays Thu, 14 Dec 2017 16:03:00 +0000 If you're going for a traditional holiday meal this season, oysters must be on the menu. The early colonists found oysters to be abundant along the coastal shores, and they were a popular addition to the holiday feast. With oysters being plentiful, they really weren't considered much of a delicacy like in today's world.

Oysters can be prepared in many ways. My husband's family makes it a tradition to serve oyster stew on Christmas Eve. As a newbie to the family and to oyster stew, I was hesitant to try it. However, desperate to win the heart of my husband's sweet grandmother, I was pleasantly surprised at the oyster's subtle flavor and the stew's buttery creamy taste. If you can get over the texture of an oyster, you will be hooked! Oysters are also popular in stuffing, another holiday tradition on my mother's side. Oyster dressing compliments both poultry and fish rather nicely.

Oysters on the half shell is another common way to eat oysters. This is served raw with a mignonette sauce. However, oysters may be contaminated with a dangerous bacterium, Vibrio vulnificus. High-risk individuals, including those with compromised immune systems, pregnant women, children and the elderly should avoid eating raw oysters. Boil shucked oysters for at least 3 minutes until the edges curl. If they are alive in their shell, boil until the shell opens; then boil another 3-5 minutes. Discard any oysters that do not open. If preparing oyster dressing to stuff in the cavity of a bird, cook oysters separately first. Then, prepare the dressing, stuff in the bird, and cook to an internal temperature of 165°F.

Four ounces of oyster meat contains 80 calories, 2 grams fat, and 9 grams protein. It's also a good source of iron, vitamin E, zinc and iodine. With safety in mind, oysters are a nutritious and delightful addition to the holiday feast.

Creamy Oyster Stew

2 Tablespoons butter

1 shallot, minced

1 garlic clove, minced

12 ounces fresh raw oysters, in their liquid

1 quart half and half

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

In a medium saucepan, heat butter on medium heat. Add shallot and garlic; sauté for 2-3 minutes until softened. Add remaining ingredients. Turn heat to low and cook until oysters begin to curl and mixture is hot, but not boiling. Serve immediately.

Yield: 5 servings

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 380 calories, 28 grams fat, 340 milligrams sodium, 11 grams carbohydrates, 0 grams fiber, 22 grams protein

Healthier Holiday Stockings Fri, 08 Dec 2017 08:32:00 +0000 Holiday traditions create lasting memories, but have you ever wondered how these traditions got their start? Whoever thought to hang hosiery on the fireplace and stuff it with goodies? While we can't say for sure how it began, the legend has it that St. Nicholas heard a man talking about not having enough money to get his three daughters married, so he secretly slid down the man's chimney and placed gold coins in the girls recently laundered stockings, which were conveniently drying by the fire. Now what about those oranges so often found in the bottom of the stocking? This age-old tradition has many interpretations but most often symbolizes St. Nicholas' gold coins and his giving attitude.

Today, the orange is typically the only healthy thing found in the stocking. Stores are loaded with high calorie stocking stuffers, such as chocolate bars and candy stuffed into plastic candy canes. This year, consider a healthier stocking. Try little boxes of raisins, single serving nut tins, which can be refilled repeatedly, or fun flavored sugar-free gum. For the coffee lover, look for canned cold brew coffee with 50 calories or less. Stocking stuffers can also be made in the kitchen, such as homemade granola, hot cocoa mix, trail mix, no-salt seasonings or the popcorn recipe below.

Of course, stockings don't have to be filled with food. Low-cost, healthy ideas include a new toothbrush, water bottle, kitchen gadget, lip balm with sun protection or hand sanitizer. If you're the one stuffing the stockings this year, give your family the gift of health. Pair these items with movie tickets, a new book, or cozy socks, and it's a stocking everyone will want!

Chocolate Peppermint Popcorn (Printable PDF)

10 cups popped popcorn (⅓ cup popcorn kernels)

1 cup dark chocolate chips

¼ teaspoon peppermint extract

1 teaspoon red sprinkles

1 teaspoon green sprinkles

Line two large baking sheets with parchment or wax paper. Spread popped popcorn evenly among pans. Place chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds. Stir and microwave in 15 second intervals, stirring in between until chocolate stirs smooth. Stir in extract. Using a spoon, drizzle chocolate over popcorn, using a fast back-and-forth motion. Sprinkle the colored sprinkles on top. Allow chocolate to completely harden before placing individual servings in a tin or bag.

Yield: 10 servings

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 150 calories, 8 grams fat, 10 milligrams sodium, 21 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 3 grams protein

Nutmeg: A Holiday Spice Fri, 01 Dec 2017 13:12:00 +0000 Nutmeg is a common spice known to flavor a flurry of holiday foods and beverages. It's a key ingredient in pumpkin spice, a must-have in eggnog and a flavor booster in custards.

Nutmeg is not actually a nut, but rather a drupe. This means it's a fruit with a single seed, similar to an apricot. It's grown on a female tree with most of the production coming from Indonesia and Grenada. The fleshy yellow fruit of the nutmeg can be eaten as is or used to make jams and jellies. The actual nutmeg is the seed kernel inside the fruit, and mace, the second spice of a nutmeg tree, is the bright red web that wraps around the seed.

Nutmeg's flavor and fragrance come from the oil of myristica, containing myristicin, which is a poisonous narcotic. It forms naturally in the seeds. When consumed in large doses, nutmeg may actually induce exotic symptoms, including hallucinations. Nutmeg poisoning, however, is very rare and generally not a concern in culinary uses.

Nutmeg pairs well with custards, cheese, winter squash, spinach, curries, fruits and lamb. Whole nutmeg, as well as ground nutmeg, should be kept away from heat and moisture; store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Whole nutmeg only releases their oils when grated so they can stay fresh for years. On the other hand, ground nutmeg can start losing its potency within just six months. One whole nutmeg yields two to three teaspoons grated. If substituting fresh for ground, use only three-quarter teaspoon of grated spice for every one-teaspoon ground. Whole nutmeg is more powerful than it's commercially ground counterpart. No matter how you buy your nutmeg, enjoy the spice that puts the flavor in the holiday.

Holiday Baked Pears (Printable PDF)

4 medium pears

24 fresh cranberries

4 Tablespoons chopped pecans

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

4 teaspoons honey

Preheat oven to 375°F. Halve the pears. Remove stems and core with melon baller or cookie scoop. Cut a small slice on the backside of each pear so that each half lays flat. Place pear halves on baking sheet. Place 3 cranberries and ½ Tablespoon of pecans in each pear half. Sprinkle each with cinnamon and nutmeg. Drizzle each with honey. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until pears are tender.

Yield: 8 servings, 1 pear half each

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 60 calories, 2.5 grams fat, 0 milligrams sodium, 10 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams fiber, 1 gram protein

A Thanksgiving Meal Scaled Down Fri, 17 Nov 2017 09:20:00 +0000 Thanksgiving is a holiday where food and family come together: A big feast for a big family. However, not everyone will have a large gathering. In fact, for many, the table may be set for just one or two. Despite this, a traditional Thanksgiving meal can still be enjoyed.

First, you must decide on whether or not you want to cook. You could go full speed ahead and prepare many dishes in smaller servings. Surf the internet for scaled down recipes or cut your traditional recipes in half and freeze the leftovers. Even the smallest turkey can have you eating leftovers for weeks. Try just buying the turkey breast or a leg to keep leftovers manageable. If your heart doesn't require there to be turkey, try a Cornish hen, which looks like a cute little mini turkey and tastes like chicken (probably because it is chicken).

If you don't want to spend too much time in the kitchen, prepare just a couple of dishes and shop for a few convenience dishes to round out the meal. Deli salads, cranberry sauce, rolls, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie can all be purchased pre-prepared. Then, you can spend your time on the mini bird and favorite side dish.

The last option is to go out to a restaurant that serves a traditional Thanksgiving meal. There's nothing wrong with surrounding yourself with strangers when the food is cooked for you. Plus, there's no leftovers to have to worry about (although that's a disappointing factor for some). If leftovers are desired, consider purchasing a Thanksgiving feast at a grocery store or restaurant. No matter how it's done, you can still enjoy a holiday buffet, even if you're only one at the bar.

Shredded Brussel Sprout Salad (Printable PDF)

6 oz. fresh Brussel sprouts

2 Tablespoons chopped pecans

2 Tablespoons dried cranberries

2 Tablespoons gorgonzola or blue cheese crumbles

1 Tablespoon chopped red onion

½ pear, cored and chopped


1 Tablespoon olive oil

1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar

½ Tablespoon maple syrup

½ teaspoon Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper to taste

Remove stem ends of Brussel sprouts and slice very thin. In a large bowl, add sprouts, pecans, cranberries, cheese, onion and pear. Set aside. In a small bowl, whisk all ingredients for the dressing. Toss with the Brussel sprout mixture and refrigerate or serve.

Yield: 2-3 servings

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 160 calories, 11 grams fat, 260 milligrams sodium, 15 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams fiber, 4 grams protein

Lima Beans or Butter Beans? Fri, 10 Nov 2017 14:25:00 +0000 It's funny how memories of our loved ones are often linked with food. I fondly remember my Grandmother making the best fried chicken, but I also remember her always dishing up my least favorite dish: lima beans. It's true. I wasn't a lima bean lover. However, I've learned that they are actually delicious when prepared in different ways.

Lima beans get their name from Lima, Peru, where they originated as early as 1500. In the south and the U.K., it may be rare to find lima beans on the menu; rather in this region, they are referred to as "butter beans." What's the difference? Nothing other than the name. Lima beans come in different sizes and two main varieties: baby lima and the Fordhook. Both are pale green and kidney-shaped, but Fordhooks are slightly larger and a bit starchier, but fuller flavored.

If boring and bland is what you remember about this bean, try purchasing them in a different form. Lima beans may be sold fresh in their pod. To store, refrigerate in a plastic bag for up to one week and shell just before using. They may also be purchased dried, in which they will need to be soaked overnight and simmered for 40-60 minutes. Frozen and canned beans are also available for quick preparation.

Lima beans are packed with good nutrients. One cup has just 100 calories, but five grams protein and six grams fiber. If the basic butter bean recipe below doesn't tickle your fancy, try them in a mixed dish like a succotash with fresh corn, tomatoes and onion. Lima beans can add flavor to any vegetable soup and they can even be roasted in the oven until they are almost crunchy. Give lima beans a second chance. I did, and now I'm hooked!

Basic Butter Beans (Printable PDF)

2 pounds baby lima beans, fresh in the shell, or one 10-ounce package, frozen

2 cups water

½ teaspoon salt

2 Tablespoons butter

¼ teaspoon black pepper

If using fresh lima beans, shell the beans and wash thoroughly. Pour water and salt in a medium saucepan; add the beans. Cook the beans until tender, about 30 minutes; drain. (If using frozen beans, skip this step and cook according to package directions.) Stir in butter and pepper. Sprinkle lightly with salt if necessary.

Yield: 6 servings

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 110 calories, 4.5 grams fat, 200 milligrams sodium, 13 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 5 grams protein

Loving Leeks Thu, 02 Nov 2017 16:15:00 +0000 There are many choices when it comes to bringing an onion flavor to your dish: red, white and yellow onions, scallions, shallots, chives and leeks all bring a different intensity of flavor. Leeks have a milder taste and resemble an oversized scallion. Their stalk is a bundle of leaf sheaths, which are white on the bottom and green on top. Use the white and lighter green area for recipes, but save the darker green sheaths for making stock.

Leek's interweaving leaves can make it difficult to clean. First, trim off the roots and darker tops. Cut the leek stalk in half, and then cut both sections right down the middle, lengthwise. Fill a baking dish with cold water and submerge the leeks. The leeks will float while the dirt sinks to the bottom. Finally, slice according to the recipe.

Leeks are widely used in soups and stews, but their subtle flavor allows them to stand-alone either raw or cooked. Simply steam, sauté, roast or braise and serve alongside chicken or fish. Leeks can also be the star in a cheesy casserole or quiche. Leeks don't freeze well so store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks or up to two days if they are already cooked. They are a good source of iron and vitamins A, C and B6. There's not much to not like about leeks. Start including them in your onion repertoire!

Creamy Leek and Mushroom Orzo (Printable PDF)

1 Tablespoon olive oil

2 cups leeks, rinsed and chopped, white and pale green parts only

2 cups cremini mushrooms, sliced

1 cup dry orzo

2 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable broth

1 ½ cups chopped tomato

3 Tablespoons light cream cheese

1 teaspoon garlic powder

¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper

In a medium skillet, heat olive oil. Add leeks and sauté over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the leeks are soft, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the orzo and toast lightly, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes. Add broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the orzo is almost tender, about 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes and simmer until orzo is tender, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cream cheese, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Serve warm.

Yield: 8 servings

Source: Texas A&M AgriLife Extension

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 150 calories, 3 grams fat, 125 milligrams sodium, 24 grams carbohydrate, 6 grams protein

The Wonders of Maple Syrup Fri, 27 Oct 2017 09:16:00 +0000 Maple syrup is the true essence of eating from nature. It's made with just one simple ingredient: the sap from a maple tree. Maple trees are tapped by drilling a hole and inserting a tube to collect the sap as it slowly drips out onto a bucket or storage tank. The clearer the sap, the richer in taste it will be.

Once the sap is collected, it's boiled and filtered to evaporate much of the water away, leaving a concentrated amount of sugar. The longer the syrup is boiled, the darker the color. Maple syrup is approximately 33% water and 67% sugar. The high price tag on maple syrup is understandable when you realize that it takes 40 gallons of sap to make just one gallon of maple syrup!

It's no surprise that maple syrup is high in calories and sugar. Just one tablespoon has 50 calories and 13 grams of sugar, almost equivalent to table sugar. However, maple syrup does contain several phytochemicals, which are potential protectors of health. Regardless, it is still an added sugar, which can raise blood glucose levels in those with diabetes and contribute to obesity or tooth decay when eaten in excess. As with many good treats, eat it in moderation.

Once opened, store pure maple syrup in the refrigerator. Syrup packaged in tin or glass will keep in the refrigerator for up to one year. Pure maple syrup is not to be confused with pancake syrup. Labeled simply "syrup" or "pancake syrup" this product is made of only about 1-3% maple syrup and is primarily corn syrup or cane sugar. It also is high in calories and sugar, and it just won't stack up to the taste of pure maple syrup.

Maple Glazed Carrots (Printable PDF)

1 Tablespoon trans-fat free margarine

2 Tablespoons maple syrup

3 Tablespoons water

1 (16 oz.) package baby carrots, or 4 medium carrots, trimmed

⅛ teaspoon black pepper

In a large skillet over medium heat, add margarine, maple syrup and water, stirring constantly. Add carrots and black pepper. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium low. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until carrots are tender and syrup has reduced to a glaze. If the carrots are tender before syrup has thickened, uncover and increase heat to medium-high.

Yield: 4 servings

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 90 calories, 3 grams fat, 115 milligrams sodium, 16 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams fiber, 1 gram protein