Moderation Maven Dishing up the best ingredients for a healthy lifestyle Sun, 15 May 2005 13:02:08 -0500 Recipe Rescue: Chocolately Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies Thu, 05 Jun 2014 15:00:00 +0000 Fudgy or cakey, who doesn't love a good brownie? But they can pack hundreds of calories in just one small square. Here's a healthier version with 50% less fat and only 150 calories, with the added deliciousness of a cream cheese swirl. Yum!

Original Recipe Ingredients (makes 24 squares)

Cream Cheese Filling:
  • 8 ounce package cream cheese
  • 1/3 cup cream cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract


  • 1 box (~1 lb) packaged fudge brownie mix
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Nutrition Facts

Changes Made:
Cream Cheese Filling:
  • 8 ounce package cream cheese: Used reduced-fat cream cheese (Neufchatel)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg: Replaced with 2 egg whites to lower fat and cholesterol
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract: Increased to 1 teaspoon to boost flavor


  • 1 box (~1 lb) packaged fudge brownie mix: Chose dark chocolate brownie mix to intensify chocolate flavor
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil: Replaced with unsweetened applesauce for moisture without fat
  • 1/3 cup water: Decreased amount to 1/4 cup (applesauce makes brownies more moist)
  • 2 large eggs: Replaced with 4 egg whites to lower fat and cholesterol
  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips: Used dark chocolate chips; decreased amount to 1/4 cup and chopped into smaller pieces (size of mini chips) to improve distribution
  • Added 1 teaspoon vanilla extract to boost flavor
In summary:
  • Dark chocolate brownie mix instead of regular
  • Used lower-fat cream cheese
  • Egg whites instead of whole eggs
  • Increased vanilla extract
  • Replaced oil with applesauce
  • Decreased chocolate chips and chopped into smaller pieces
Nutrition Facts Face-Off!

Chocolately Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies


Cream Cheese Filling:

  • 8 oz package reduced-fat cream cheese, softened
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla


  • 1 box (~1 lb) packaged dark chocolate brownie mix
  • ¼ cup unsweetened applesauce
  • ¼ cup water
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ¼ cup chopped dark chocolate or mini dark/semisweet chocolate chips


  1. Heat oven to 350°F. Spray bottom only of 13x9-inch pan with cooking spray. In medium bowl, beat cream cheese with electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Beat in remaining filling ingredients until well blended.
  2. In large bowl, stir brownie mix, oil, water, 4 egg whites and 1 teaspoon vanilla together until well blended. Spread in pan.
  3. Spoon filling mixture over brownie batter in pan. Cut through filling mixture and batter with knife or toothpick to create marbled design. Sprinkle with chocolate chips.
  4. Bake 28 to 32 minutes or until toothpick inserted in brownie 2 inches from side of pan comes out clean or almost clean. Cool completely, about 1 hour. For 24 brownies, cut into 6 rows by 4 rows. Store covered in refrigerator.
Store Shelves Loaded with Milk Alternatives Tue, 03 Jun 2014 15:00:00 +0000 June is National Dairy Month, a time to celebrate all the nutritious benefits of milk, cheese and yogurt. But what if you don't do dairy? Whether it's for food preferences, religious purposes or health reasons, there are lots of reasons why people may not partake. Food companies have responded by developing scores of products to meet those needs, and I get lots of questions about the nutritional benefits of each. I don't have enough space here to discuss them all, so I'll focus on cereal's best friend: milk. Or milk alternatives, that is.

Lactose-free milk

People who are lactose-intolerant do not have enough of the lactase enzyme and have trouble digesting lactose (milk sugar). This can cause gas, bloating, diarrhea and nausea. Lactose-free milk is nutritionally the same as regular milk. The only difference is that the lactase enzyme is added to the milk. This enzyme breaks down the lactose so that people who are lactose-intolerant can drink the milk without adverse effects.

Soy milk

Soy milk is made from soybeans that are ground up and soaked. The liquid that is then strained off is the soy milk. Compared to other milk alternatives, soy milk is the most similar to milk in terms of nutrient content. It is usually fortified with calcium and vitamin D and is a good source of protein. Some products are fortified with other nutrients like vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids. Soy milk naturally contains isoflavones. These are plant chemicals that may help lower "bad" LDL cholesterol.

Almond milk

Almond milk is made from ground almonds. Since it is made from nuts, it has higher amounts of certain nutrients, most notably vitamin E. However, it is relatively low in protein compared to dairy and soy milk. Not all brands and varieties are fortified, so it may have more or less calcium and vitamin D compared to dairy and soy milk.

Coconut milk

Coconut milk is made from soaking grated coconut meat. It is a very popular ingredient in Southeast Asian cuisine. In the United States, coconut milk is typically sold in cans. Thickening agents and emulsifiers are usually added so that the milk does not separate. This is a natural process but is often mistaken for spoilage.

Coconut is one of the only plant sources of saturated fats (normally found in animal foods like meat and dairy). Coconut milk is high in saturated fat, and too much saturated fat can lead to cardiovascular issues. Some people question whether the saturated fat found in coconut products is as bad as we think. This is a hot topic of research, but at this point, many health organizations (FDA, World Health Organization, American Heart Association, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, etc.) recommend only consuming small amounts until we know more.

Rice milk

Rice milk is made mostly from brown rice and generally tastes sweeter than cow's milk. Compared to other milks, it is higher in carbohydrate but low in protein. Not all brands are fortified with nutrients, so be sure to read the Nutrition Facts label.

In sum, soy, almond, rice and coconut milk are all lactose- and dairy-free and can be enjoyed by people who are lactose-intolerant. Since they are plant-based, they are also good options for vegans and vegetarians. Soy, almond and rice milk do not have significant saturated fat or cholesterol, making them heart-healthy choices. Soy and almond milk are also good choices for people with diabetes, as they tend to be lower in carbohydrates.

Milk alternatives come in a variety of flavors as well as light and regular versions. Fat, sugar and calorie content differ depending on flavor, brand and whether it is light or regular.

As always, be sure to read the Nutrition Facts label and make up any differences (like protein) in other areas of your diet.

Recipe Rescue: Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad Thu, 29 May 2014 12:00:00 +0000 Today we're making over an all-American summer side dish – pasta salad! Mayo-based dishes like potato salad or macaroni salad can be filled with fat and calories. I think summer food should be light and tasty, so I took on the challenge of making over this Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad recipe.

Original Recipe Ingredients (serves 10 - about 1 1/4 cup each)

  • 12 oz package uncooked tri-color rotini pasta
  • 10 slices bacon
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 packet dry ranch salad dressing mix
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic pepper
  • 1/2 cup milk + additional if needed
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • 3.8 ounce can sliced black olives
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Nutrition Facts

Changes Made:
  • 12 oz package uncooked tri-color rotini pasta: Used whole grain rotini to boost fiber content
  • 10 slices bacon: Reduced to 5 slices and specified to be center-cut bacon (lower in fat)
  • 1 cup mayonnaise: Substituted fat-free plain Greek yogurt (cuts down significantly on fat, adds calcium and protein)
  • 1 packet dry ranch salad dressing mix
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic pepper
  • 1/2 cup milk + additional if needed: Specified to be skim milk
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • 3.8 ounce can sliced black olives
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese: Specified to be reduced-fat cheese
In summary:
  • Whole grain rotini in place of tri-color
  • Cut down on bacon, used center-cut
  • Used fat-free plain Greek yogurt instead of mayo
  • Used skim milk
  • Switched to reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese
Nutrition Facts Face-Off!

Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad


  • 12 oz package uncooked whole grain rotini pasta
  • 5 slices center-cut bacon
  • 1 cup fat-free plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 packet dry ranch salad dressing mix
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon garlic pepper
  • ½ cup skim milk, or as needed
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • 3.8 oz can sliced black olives
  • 1 cup shredded reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese


  1. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil; cook rotini at a boil until firm to the bite; drain.
  2. Cook bacon in a skillet over medium-high heat and cook until evenly brown. Drain well and chop finely.
  3. In a large bowl, mix Greek yogurt, ranch dressing mix, garlic powder, and garlic pepper. Whisk in milk until smooth. Place rotini, bacon, tomato, black olives and cheese in bowl and toss to coat with dressing. Cover and chill at least 1 hour in the refrigerator. Toss with additional milk if the salad needs more moisture.
It's Grilling Season - Let's Be Safe Out There Tue, 20 May 2014 10:05:00 +0000 I don't know about you, but I am fired up to fire up my grill after the brutal winter we had. Grilling is one of my favorite ways to prepare all types of foods — from the typical burgers, steaks and chicken to fish, vegetables and even fruit. It's a relatively low-fat preparation method, and the high temperatures help bring out delicious flavors (calorie-free) thanks to chemical reactions like caramelization and browning.

But while high temps on the barbecue can have benefits, heat can increase the likelihood of food poisoning. The warmer it gets, the more bacteria multiply. At a certain temperature, they do get destroyed, but sometimes bacteria have produced toxins that are not inactivated by heat. When we leave foods sitting out or fail to cook them properly, we may be setting ourselves up for a night in the bathroom.

Are you doing all you can to prevent food poisoning? Follow these important tips from the USDA to barbecue with the best of them.

From the store

When shopping, buy cold food like meat and poultry last, right before checkout. Separate raw meat and poultry from other food in your shopping cart. To guard against cross-contamination, which can happen when raw meat or poultry juices drip on other food, put packages of raw meat and poultry into plastic bags. Plan to drive directly home from the grocery. You may want to take a cooler with ice for perishables. Always refrigerate perishable food within two hours. Refrigerate within one hour when the temperature is above 90 F.

At home, place meat and poultry in the refrigerator immediately. Freeze poultry and ground meat that won't be used in one or two days; freeze other meat within four to five days.

Thaw safely

Completely thaw meat and poultry before grilling so it cooks more evenly. Use the refrigerator for slow, safe thawing or thaw sealed packages in cold water. For quicker thawing, you can microwave defrost if the food will be placed immediately on the grill.


A marinade is a savory, acidic sauce in which a food is soaked to enrich its flavor or to tenderize it. Marinate food in the refrigerator, not on the counter. Poultry and cubed meat or stew meat can be marinated up to two days. Beef, veal, pork and lamb roasts, chops and steaks may be marinated up to five days. If some of the marinade is to be used as a sauce on the cooked food, reserve a portion of the marinade before putting raw meat and poultry in it. However, if the marinade used on raw meat or poultry is to be reused, make sure to let it come to a boil first to destroy any harmful bacteria.


When carrying food to another location, keep it cold to minimize bacterial growth. Use an insulated cooler with sufficient ice or ice packs to keep the food at 40 F or below. Pack food right from the refrigerator into the cooler immediately before leaving home.

Keep cold food cold

Keep meat and poultry refrigerated until ready to use. Only take out the meat and poultry that will immediately be placed on the grill.

When using a cooler, keep it out of the direct sun by placing it in the shade or shelter. Avoid opening the lid too often, which lets cold air out and warm air in. Pack beverages in one cooler and perishables in a separate cooler.

Keep everything clean

Be sure there are plenty of clean utensils and platters. To prevent foodborne illness, don't use the same platter and utensils for raw and cooked meat and poultry. Harmful bacteria present in raw meat and poultry and their juices can contaminate safely cooked food.

If you're eating away from home, find out if there's a source of clean water. If not, bring water for preparation and cleaning. Or pack clean cloths and moist towelettes for cleaning surfaces and hands.


Precooking food partially in the microwave, oven or stove is a good way of reducing grilling time. Just make sure that the food goes immediately on the preheated grill to complete cooking.

Cook thoroughly

Cook food to a safe minimum internal temperature to destroy harmful bacteria. Meat and poultry cooked on a grill often browns very fast on the outside. Use a food thermometer to be sure the food has reached a safe minimum internal temperature: whole poultry, 165 F; poultry breasts, 165 F; ground poultry, 165 F; ground meats, 160 F; beef, pork, lamb and veal (steaks, roasts and chops), 145 F; and allow to rest at least 3 minutes.

Never partially grill meat or poultry and finish cooking later.


When reheating fully cooked meats like hot dogs, grill to 165 F or until steaming hot.

Keep hot food hot

After cooking meat and poultry on the grill, keep it hot until served — at 140 F or warmer.

Keep cooked meats hot by setting them to the side of the grill rack, not directly over the coals where they could overcook. At home, the cooked meat can be kept hot in an oven set at approximately 200 F, in a chafing dish or slow cooker, or on a warming tray.

Serving the food

When taking food off the grill, use a clean platter. Don't put cooked food on the same platter that held raw meat or poultry. Any harmful bacteria present in the raw meat juices could contaminate safely cooked food.

In hot weather (above 90 F), food should never sit out for more than one hour.


Refrigerate any leftovers promptly in shallow containers. Discard any food left out more than two hours (one hour if temperatures are above 90 F).

Making Strawberry Jam Wed, 07 May 2014 11:00:00 +0000

I confess, I never knew much about food preservation until I started working for Extension. I have now heard countless stories of people growing up watching their elders put up green beans, peaches and whatever else they could preserve. I am proud to say that I, too, am embracing the culture and have left my suburban ignorance behind.

As with learning any new skill, I can attest that it's pretty rewarding to feel that sense of mastery and self-satisfaction. Plus, you can share the love by gifting your delicious results to others throughout the year. Whether you have an abundance of produce from the garden or came across an amazing sale on strawberries and stocked up, preservation is an excellent way to extend the shelf life of food you've acquired at low cost. You may even be able to make some money back if you sell your items at farmers' markets in accordance with the Cottage Foods Act of 2011. (If you're interested in this, check out our From Garden Gates to Dinner Plates website!)

With the growing interest in personal health, home food preservation offers the option of addressing dietary concerns. No-sugar-added jams are excellent for diabetics, while salt-free vegetables are good choices for those with cardiovascular concerns. There is also the benefit of using few preservatives other than acid, sugar and/or salt in the recipe combined with the high temperature and pressure associated with processing.

Now before you get all excited, there are some things to think about prior to jumping on the bandwagon...

  • The start-up costs of equipment and accessories may not be prohibitive, but will you have access to enough quality produce to make it worth it?

  • Canning also takes planning, time and effort, so you need to weigh whether you can fit it in your schedule.

  • Do you have enough storage space? You'll need plenty of cabinet or storage space that is relatively cool and dark.

  • Finally, do you have the knowledge and skills?

Even for those who are seasoned pros, preservation recommendations have changed over the years. When I tell someone they shouldn't be canning green beans in a hot water bath, I often hear "well, that's how my grandma always did it" or "I've never gotten sick before."

If you don't follow current food-safety guidelines, it really is a toss-up. According to the CDC, 38 percent of botulism outbreaks since 1996 were from home-canned vegetables, where home canners did not follow instructions, did not use pressure canners, ignored signs of spoilage and were unaware of the risk. Botulism is no joke — poisoning can lead to paralysis and even death.

So whether you are just starting out or need to refresh your food preservation knowledge, I invite you to join me for "Yes! You Can: Preserving Safely." Besides receiving the latest, most up-to-date safety information, you will also be able get your dial-gauge pressure canner tested for accuracy. If you have a dial-gauge pressure canner, you need to get it tested once a year.

I will be offering this workshop at a variety of times and locations to get you ready for canning season:

- May 13, 1-3 p.m., Ford-Iroquois County Extension office, 916 W. Seminary Ave., Onarga.

- June 4, 1-3 p.m., Vermilion County Extension office, 3164 N. Vermilion St., Danville.

- June 9, 6-8 p.m., Champaign County Extension office, 801 N. Country Fair Drive, C.

Please note that canner gauge testing is not available on a drop-in basis. If there is sufficient demand, we will schedule additional sessions. You may also call surrounding Extension units for other nearby opportunities.

There is a $5 fee, which will cover the educational session and pressure canner gauge testing. Space is limited to 30 participants per session, so enroll now. To register for any session, call the Champaign Extension at 333-7672 or visit

Everyone is invited to attend. If you need reasonable accommodations to participate, please let us know!

Making the most of your farmers' market visit Tue, 22 Apr 2014 10:56:00 +0000
And if you don't already frequent farmers markets, you might want to consider a trip. But why?


There are a plethora of benefits that go along with purchasing local goods. Note that the definition of "local" is not legally defined, but is commonly assumed to mean grown or raised within a 100 mile radius from a given location. With that being said, locally grown produce may be more nutritious than crops that have been shipped in from international sources. That's because certain nutrients in fruits and vegetables can be sensitive to fluctuating light levels and temperature, which can sometimes be inevitable during transport.

Environmental advocates also argue that buying local is preferable because there are fewer emissions from transportation vehicles and less resources (like fuel and packaging materials) are used. Buying straight from the farmer also helps support local (and often family-run) business. According to the USDA Economic Research Service, only 16 cents gets back to the farmer for every dollar spent at the grocery store. Meanwhile, the whole dollar goes to the farmer when you buy direct.

You may also see a wider variety of choices at farmers markets. Sandy Mason, University of Illinois Extension Horticulture Educator says, "local farmers can offer varieties chosen for their flavor, not just how well they ship." They also have the flexibility to grow heirloom varieties and those with interesting color variations, like purple potatoes, yellow carrots, and striped squashes.


So I definitely think it is worthwhile to visit the market at least a few times during the season, if anything just to get out, enjoy the weather, and get in a bit of easy exercise. Here are my top 12 tips to make the most of your visit.

1. Before leaving the house, put on comfortable shoes and check the weather report, making sure you're dressed appropriately. If rain is on the radar, wear a jacket with hood. It will be difficult to juggle an umbrella and bags of produce.

2. Bring a bag to carry produce, a rigid box for berries, and/or a pull-along cart or wagon.

3. Also make sure to bring cash. Some markets will take cards, WIC, or LINK but you never know.

4. If you're looking for the best selection, go early. The most recently "in season" produce and best-looking items go first. If you're looking for bargains, go later. Farmers don't like to pack up produce to take home. Arriving just before closing time may be to your benefit. This is also a time to buy in bulk for preservation, as the farmer might make you a deal on everything that's left.

5. Stroll the entire market before you buy, checking availability and prices. Many assume that because transportation costs are lower, that prices will be more affordable for the consumer. Keep in mind that this in not always the case. Small family farms may need to charge higher prices if they do not farm on a large scale and have a smaller supply. Plus, prices can vary among farmers.

6. You may need to alter your expectations. You probably won't see tomatoes in May or pumpkins in July. Produce may not be uniform in size and you'll see new and different varieties. Why not try something new?

7. If you're unfamiliar with the produce, talk to the farmer! Most welcome conversation and are happy to talk about how their produce grown. They can also give you advice on how to prepare the produce.

8. In terms of food safety, make sure any reusable bags you bring have been cleaned and sanitized. You can wash most bags in the washer using hot water, then air dry.

9. If buying juice or cider, make sure it has been pasteurized to kill harmful bacteria. Pregnant women, children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems should drink only pasteurized or treated juice.

10. If you're buying eggs, make sure they are properly chilled at the market. FDA requires that untreated shell eggs must be stored and displayed at 45°F. Before buying, open the carton and make sure that the eggs are clean and the shells are not cracked. Make sure that the meat is properly chilled at the market, too. Meat should be kept in closed coolers with adequate amounts of ice to maintain cool temperatures.

11. Bring an insulated bag or cooler with you to the market to keep meat and eggs cool on the way home. Be sure to keep these separate from your other purchases, so that juices from raw meat (which may contain harmful bacteria) and bacteria on egg shells do not come in contact with produce and other foods.

12. At home, wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap before and after preparing fresh produce. Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running water just before eating, cutting or cooking. Be sure to refrigerate cut or peeled fruits and vegetables within two hours after preparation.

To find a market near you, contact your local University of Illinois Extension Office for a listing or visit

You can also check out the USDA Farmers Market Directory, published by the Agricultural Marketing Service. This will help you find out if a market accepts SNAP, WIC or Senior Farmers Market benefits. You can search for the nearest market by zip code. Each market lists the types of payment that are accepted: The information in the directory is voluntary but many if not most farmers markets do upload their information on an annual basis.