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 Experience the Benefits of Matcha Tea Fri, 18 Jan 2019 10:02:00 +0000 A few months ago, I had the privilege of participating in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. It was a unique opportunity to gain new perspectives and an understanding of diverse cultures, but I must say, I particularly enjoyed the moment of quietude. It was here that I had my first sip (and slurps) of matcha tea.

Like all teas, excluding herbal teas, matcha comes from the Camellia sinensis plant. What's unique about this green tea is that the plant is kept in the shade about three weeks before harvesting so that certain nutrients are produced to create a sweeter taste. After picking, it's steamed, air-dried and ground into a bright green powder. Because the entire leaf is dissolved in water, versus steeping the leaves like conventional tea, matcha is known to have three times as much disease-fighting antioxidants.

Matcha tea is a particularly rich source of L-theanine, an amino acid unique to tea and known to have a calming effect. While it does contain some caffeine, it contains at least one-third less than a cup of regular black coffee. As the popularity of matcha grows, production in areas other than Japan are producing matcha to meet global demand. However, they may not follow the traditional production methods, which could hinder quality and purity. Read the package label to look for the product origin and if it has added ingredients. Matcha is delicate in that it doesn't like heat, light or too much oxygen. Store matcha tea in an airtight container in a dark cool place to preserve it's flavor, freshness and nutritional quality.

Making matcha tea is as easy as mixing the powder with hot water. In tea ceremonies, matcha is whisked with a bamboo whisk in a tea bowl, but a simple whisk or spoon in a mug will work just fine. Experiment with matcha powder in a variety of ways, such as in smoothies, cookies or oatmeal. Bring a calming factor to life's own stresses, and drink matcha tea.

Iced Matcha Latte (Printable PDF)

1 ½ teaspoons matcha powder

1 ½ cups unsweetened almond milk

2 teaspoons honey or agave syrup

⅛ teaspoon vanilla extract

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until matcha is dissolved (or place ingredients in a glass and whisk until matcha is dissolved.) Pour into a glass over ice.

Yield: 1 serving

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 130 calories, 5 grams fat, 200 milligrams sodium, 16 grams carbohydrate, 0 grams fiber, 5 grams protein

Is Keto For You? Fri, 11 Jan 2019 09:15:00 +0000 As the season for weight loss diets is now in full swing, you may be wondering if the ketogenic, or keto, diet is one to embark on. The ketogenic diet is one of the newest weight-loss strategies to surface the media, but it's actually been around since 1920 as an effective treatment for epilepsy in children.

While there's slight variances in the many versions of the keto diet, it's basically a low carbohydrate (5%-10% of daily calories), high fat (70%-80% of daily calories) and moderate protein (10-20% of daily calories) diet. The premise, is putting your body through a state of ketosis, an adaption that allows the body to survive during starvation. When severely restricting your body of carbohydrates, which are the brain's main source of energy, the body will metabolize fat instead of carbs, creating ketones. In the absence of carbs, the brain uses ketones for fuel.

The diet has been associated with short-term benefits, including weight loss, and improvements in insulin resistance and cardiovascular markers. It's also been reported that the high-fat content helps keep people feeling full. On the other hand, the restrictive nature of the diet makes it very difficult for one to follow. Prohibiting specific foods and food groups can lead to nutritional deficiencies and create unhealthy eating behaviors over time. As of now, there is insufficient evidence about the long-term effectiveness or safety of the ketogenic diet. A ketogenic diet is not for everyone. Instead of fooling your body into thinking that it's in starving mode, eat a balanced diet of unsaturated fats, lean protein and carbohydrates, which include whole grains, fruits and vegetables. If you do choose to go keto, it is recommended to consult with one's physician and dietitian to closely monitor biochemical changes.

Eggroll Bowl (Printable PDF)

1 lb. ground pork

⅓ cup lite soy sauce

2 Tablespoons toasted sesame oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon ginger, minced

1 (16 oz.) bag coleslaw mix

In a large skillet, brown pork over medium heat. Meanwhile, whisk soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic and ginger in a small bowl; set aside. Drain pork. Add coleslaw mix and sauce to the meat. Stir and cook 5 minutes, until cabbage just begins to wilt.

Yield: 6 servings

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 240 calories, 17 grams fat, 590 milligrams sodium, 7 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber, 15 grams protein

Sous Vide Cooking: A Modern Trend Fri, 04 Jan 2019 07:55:00 +0000 Recent trends in food appliances have people learning how to cook in more than just an oven. Pressure cookers, air fryers and high-powered blenders are just some of the latest machines to hit the market, but it's the sous vide (pronounced sue-veed) cookers that have most people intrigued.

Sous vide is a French term meaning "under vacuum." If you read my latest blog on vacuum sealed food, this is simply taking it one step further and cooking it in the bag. This actually isn't a new concept, as restaurants and other food service facilities have been using this technique for years. However, it just recently became available and affordable for home use. A sous vide cooker uses a heated metal coil to warm water to a precise, constant low temperature. Since the water is constantly circulating, there's no hot or cool spots. Sous vide cooking takes the guesswork out of wondering if the food is done. If you put a steak in water set at 140°F, it can never go past that temperature, meaning it's nearly impossible to overcook anything. Once it's done, simply sear the steak on the stove to produce the caramelized exterior.

The disadvantage is that foods must cook long enough to reach a target temperature and eliminate potential bacteria. A medium-rare steak can take up to four hours, and pork ribs can need as long as 36 hours! However, once cooked, the food can be transferred to the refrigerator or freezer for a future easy, quick meal. Another disadvantage is the environmental waste when using plastic bags.

As with vacuum sealed food, sous vide cooking does pose some risks if not careful. First, only use food-safe bags. These are bags (generally made of inert polyethylene) free of BPA, phthalates, and other plasticizers, which may leach into the food and lead to health concerns. Second, if not consuming the food immediately after cooking, it's vital to cool the food quickly before placing in the refrigerator or freezer. Cool it in an ice water bath by filling a large bowl of half ice and half water. When ready to thaw, take food out of the bag, and thaw in the refrigerator. Never leave food sitting at room temperature for longer than two hours. These steps will decrease the risk of the deadly bacterium, clostridium botulinum. If you have the cash and the time, give sous vide a try; just remember to do it safely!

Sous vide cookbooks are beginning to pop up online and in bookstores. Browse through a few to pick your favorite one!

Are Food Vacuum Sealers Safe? Thu, 27 Dec 2018 10:23:00 +0000 Did Santa bring you a food vacuum sealer for Christmas? While probably not on everyone's wish list, many people love the advantages of a food vacuum sealer. Home vacuum sealers are small appliances that remove oxygen from the package of food before sealing, which can increase storage time, preserve the flavor and color and reduce food waste. However, there are risks with vacuum sealed foods, making it important to be "in-the-know" before vacuum sealing or using vacuum sealed products.

Removing oxygen doesn't eliminate the risk of bacterial growth. While it may limit some bacteria, which spoil food and causes noticeable changes, such as mold or sliminess, it may actually increase the risk of pathogenic bacteria, which causes foodborne illness and generally does not cause noticeable changes to the food. Clostridium botulinum, for instance, is a potentially deadly bacterium that prefers to grow in an environment without oxygen, meaning food that is vacuum sealed can be a growing ground for this dangerous toxin.

Avoid the risks related to vacuum sealed foods by keeping these foods in the refrigerator or freezer. Vacuum sealers are not to replace home canning in a boiling water bath or pressure canner. Dry foods, like nuts or crackers are the only vacuum sealed foods that can be stored at room temperature. In addition, be sure to thaw foods out of the vacuum package and in the refrigerator. This includes frozen fish or chicken that you may buy at the store. Seal it safe with your vacuum sealer!

Simple Salmon Sliders (Printable PDF)

12 oz. skinless salmon fillet, cut into 1-inch cubes
Zest of ½ lime
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce
Salt and pepper, to taste
6 whole wheat slider buns

Spray grill with non-stick cooking spray. Heat grill to medium heat. In a food processor, coarsely grind salmon cubes, lime peel zest, mustard, ginger, cilantro, low-sodium soy sauce, and salt and pepper if desired. Using clean hands, form mixture into 3 salmon patties. Grill (or cook in a skillet) on medium heat for 4 minutes on each side or until it reaches 145ᵒF. Top with vegetables, mango salsa, grilled pineapple rings, avocado, goat cheese, or a tartar sauce and serve on a whole wheat bun.
Yield: 3 servings, 2 sliders each

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 310 calories, 13 grams fat, 380 milligrams sodium, 21 grams carbohydrate, 4 grams fiber, 27 grams protein

Whole Nuts: A Christmas Tradition Thu, 20 Dec 2018 10:14:00 +0000 My mother-in-law always put a variety of whole nuts in the bottom of everyone's Christmas stockings. It's a tradition that has been passed down in her family, and I'm sure other families do the same. But why do we serve whole nuts for the holiday season?

Many of us think of the old-fashioned wooden solider that cracks nuts with his jaw. The nutcracker is a symbol that depicts the Christmas story of "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King," and was later choreographed into the famous Nutcracker Ballet. Of course, there are more practical reasons to include nuts during the holidays. Most nuts are harvested in the fall, making them the freshest of the bunch and generally, the least costly since most are on sale at this time.

Nuts are a healthy snack option. They're high in healthy fats, including monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which may help to decrease blood cholesterol. They're also packed with fiber and protein to help keep you full for longer. Store nuts in or out of the shell at room temperature for two to four weeks. For longer storage time, place in the refrigerator for one year or the freezer for two years. Nuts can be thawed and refrozen repeatedly without any significant loss of flavor or texture. Consider cracking whole nuts this holiday season; it can be a fun tradition even for that person that is a tough nut to crack.

Cinnamon Sugared Pumpkin Pecan Muffins (Printable PDF)

8 Tablespoons sugar, divided

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, divided

1 cup bran flakes

1 cup skim milk

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 Tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 cup canned pumpkin

1 large egg

1 Tablespoon vanilla extract

¼ cup finely chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 400°F. Spray 12 muffin cups with cooking spray. Combine 2 Tablespoons sugar and ½ teaspoon cinnamon in a small bowl; set aside. In a large bowl, combine cereal and milk; set aside for 5 minutes. In a separate bowl, combine 6 Tablespoons sugar, 1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon, flour, baking powder and baking soda. Whisk pumpkin, egg and vanilla into cereal/milk mixture. Fold in dry mixture, being careful not to over mix. Spoon into prepared pan and sprinkle with pecans and sugar-cinnamon mixture. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Yield: 12 servings

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 125 calories, 2 grams fat, 223 milligrams sodium, 23 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber, 3 grams protein

Source: USDA What's Cooking? Mixing Bowl

Kicking Bad Food Habits to the Curb Fri, 14 Dec 2018 08:26:00 +0000 The holiday season tends to bring out traditions, or habits, if you will. While most are fun and harmless, others, while they may have the best intentions, need to retire. Here's my top five food-related habits that need to be broken:

  1. Cooking in a paper bag- I'm not sure how this got started, but cooking in a paper bag, whether it's a turkey in the oven or popcorn in the microwave, is not recommended. Paper bags were not made to cook food in. According to the USDA, they may not be sanitary, and there can be toxic fumes from the ink, glue and recycled materials. Instead, use oven-safe cooking bags, which have been approved by the FDA and can be used in a microwave or oven set no higher than 400°F.
  2. Rinsing raw meat- While it may seem cleaner or safer to wash meat before cooking it's actually spreading bacteria, not removing it. Water can splash bacteria up to 3 feet surrounding your sink! Cooking to the proper temperature kills bacteria; therefore, washing it isn't necessary.
  3. Storing refrigerated food outside- The refrigerator may be jam packed with food, but putting perishable food outside or in the garage could put people at risk for foodborne illness. Even if there is snow outside, temperatures can vary hour by hour and sun rays can easily warm the food enough for bacteria to grow. If you need extra space, use insulated coolers filled with ice; you can then put them outside or in the garage.
  4. Thawing on the counter- Maybe it's what you're mom used to do, but I bet she'd be the first to tell you that "just because so-and-so does it, doesn't mean you should!" At room temperature, bacteria can rapidly multiply producing toxins that cooking may not destroy. There are three ways to safely thaw: in the refrigerator, under cold water (change water every 30 minutes), or in the microwave (must cook it immediately after).
  5. Leaving leftovers to sit out too long- it's potluck season, which means an abundance of food that has the potential to sit at room temperature for longer than two hours, increasing the risk of foodborne illness. Keep hot foods hot with slow cookers or buffet chafer food warmers, and keep cold foods cold by placing food in a serving dish over a bowl of ice.

If any of these practices have entered your life, consider adding them to your list of New Year's resolutions and say good-bye!

Sausage, Kale and Potato Soup (Printable PDF)

1 lb. turkey sausage

1 onion, diced

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 cloves garlic, minced

4 cups no-added salt chicken broth

3 small russet potatoes, chopped into 1-inch cubes

2 cups kale (stems removed) finely chopped

1 cup half and half

salt and pepper to taste

In a large stockpot, brown sausage until no longer pink. Add onion, red pepper flakes, garlic and cook, stirring often, until the onions are translucent about 4 minutes. Add the chicken broth, potatoes, and kale. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Remove the soup from the heat, stir in the cream, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Yield: 6 servings

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 320 calories, 13 grams fat, 670 milligrams sodium, 33 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber, 20 grams protein

Getting Fancy with Custard Fri, 07 Dec 2018 09:22:00 +0000 For some, the holidays are a time to get fancy. You wear your best dress or tuxedo to the corporate holiday party, you set out your grandmother's fine china, and you actually use that dining room table as a place to eat rather than a place to store all of life's daily belongings. It's also a time to serve fancier food. Flan, crème brulee and crème anglaise are three examples of a custard that simply spells "fancy."

A custard is made with either milk or cream and eggs. It differs from pudding in that pudding is thickened with starch, while custard is thickened with eggs. The proteins in the egg coagulate when gently heated, thereby thickening the mixture. "Gently heated" is the key since cooking custard too quickly will cause the egg proteins to curdle, leaving you with lumpy custard rather than smooth custard. Bake in the oven using a bain-marie (custard dish is placed in a larger baking dish surrounded with hot water) to produce steam or use a double boiler to gently cook over the stove.

Custards vary in consistency depending on the type. Cheesecake, crème brulee, and custard pies, such as pumpkin pie, are thicker than crème anglaise, which is more of a thin sauce. Custards may be high in calories and saturated fat. Use fat-free milk or evaporated skim milk in place of heavy cream or whole milk. Top custards with fruit or blend with vegetables, like winter squash to offer more nutrients. Don't forget to refrigerate your custard, including that pumpkin pie, to keep food-borne bacteria at bay!

Sweet Potato Custard (Printable PDF)

1 cup cooked sweet potato, mashed

½ cup banana, mashed

1 cup evaporated skim milk

2 Tablespoons packed brown sugar

2 egg yolks, beaten

½ teaspoon salt

¼ cup raisins

1 Tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Nonstick cooking spray

Preheat oven to 300°F. In a medium bowl, stir together sweet potato and banana. Add milk and blend well. Add brown sugar, egg yolk, and salt. Mix thoroughly. Spray 1 quart casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray. Place sweet potato mixture in casserole dish. Combine raisins, sugar, and cinnamon in a small bowl. Sprinkle over top of potato mixture. Bake in oven for 45-50 minutes or until knife inserted near center comes out clean.

Yield: 6 servings

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 160 calories, 1.5 grams fat, 270 milligrams sodium, 31 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber, 5 grams protein