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 Easy Mashed Potatoes for Your Thanksgiving Meal! Fri, 09 Nov 2018 09:37:00 +0000 Mashed potatoes are a classic dish at most everyone's Thanksgiving dinner table. Whether you like them silky and smooth or hearty and chunky, they're a delicious accompaniment to roasted turkey. In simplest form, mashed potatoes are put together with just five ingredients: potatoes, milk, butter, salt and pepper. However, some people may say that if you want them creamy, you must add cream: heavy whipping cream, sour cream or even cream cheese! But are these high calorie, high saturated fat ingredients truly needed for a mouth-watering bowl of mashed potatoes?

Higher starch potatoes, like Russet or Idaho will produce fluffy, smooth mashed potatoes. Waxy potatoes, like red or new potatoes, hold their shape better when cooking and thus may require more muscle power to mash without turning them into potato paste. Don't use a blender to whip potatoes! If you're not careful, blenders or food processors will overwork the starch and leave you with gummy taters. Invest just a couple of bucks into a potato masher, and don't overwork them! Also, warm the milk before adding it to the potatoes, which will absorb better and not cool down a hot dish.

Despite the criticism white potatoes receive, they're packed with nutrition, including fiber, B-vitamins, vitamin C and more potassium than a banana. Instant mashed potatoes are certainly convenient, but you'll need to read the labels to choose the healthiest one. Look for those without hydrogenated oils and preservatives with sodium. Dehydrated potato flakes is the only ingredient necessary! With these tips, you'll succeed in making delicious fluffy mashed potatoes without the need for cream!

Easy Mashed Potatoes (Printable PDF)

5 lb. potatoes

5-7 Tablespoons butter or margarine

2-2½ cups skim milk

Salt and pepper to taste

Wash potatoes, peel, if desired and quarter. Place potatoes in a large stockpot and add cold water to cover by 1-inch. Cover with lid and bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. Uncover and reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Test for tenderness at 30 minutes by piercing with a fork. Once fork tender, remove from heat and drain. Place back on stovetop and reduce heat to low. Stir in butter or margarine, salt and pepper. Heat milk in the microwave for 45 seconds or until warm. Add to potatoes and mash with potato masher. Serve warm.

Yield: 12 servings

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 250 calories, 6 grams fat, 140 milligrams sodium, 43 grams carbohydrate, 4 grams fiber, 6 grams protein

Is Agave Nectar a Healthier Alternative to Sugar? Fri, 02 Nov 2018 09:45:00 +0000 Even most children can tell you that excess sugar isn't healthy, unless of course they are bargaining for just one more piece of Halloween candy! A high sugar diet may lead to cavities and obesity and in turn, influence diabetes and heart disease. This may have you thinking about alternative ways to sweeten foods, such as agave nectar.

Agave nectar isn't truly a nectar, but rather a syrup produced by the fibrous core of the agave plant. It's processed by breaking down these fibrous carbohydrates into simple sugars, primarily fructose. There's been much dispute regarding the role of fructose in the diet, as some professionals have blamed fructose and high fructose corn syrup for our nation's obesity epidemic. While it's tough to say that it's had a causative effect on obesity, agave nectar does in fact contain more calories and grams of sugar than table sugar (sucrose). However, because it's 1.5 times sweeter than sugar, you can use less of it.

Unfortunately, agave nectar has been promoted as being a healthier alternative to table sugar. That's because it has a low glycemic index (a measure of the effect that a food has on blood glucose levels). Agave nectar will not raise blood glucose levels as rapidly as table sugar, but even the American Diabetes Association says that agave is still sugar; it will still raise blood glucose levels and is far from a healthy choice. Whether sugar, agave, honey, maple syrup or others, simply use less!

Cinnamon Plum Quinoa (Printable PDF)

1 cup water

1 cup non-fat milk

1 cup rinsed quinoa

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

4 plums, sliced

½ cup water

¼ cup agave nectar

¼ cup chopped pecans

Optional: milk and vanilla yogurt for serving

Combine water, milk, quinoa, vanilla and cinnamon in medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and stir. While quinoa is cooking combine plums, water and agave nectar in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until plums are soft and juicy, about 5 minutes. To serve, scoop quinoa in a bowl. If desired, add milk. Spoon plums with syrup and pecans over quinoa. Dollop with vanilla yogurt, if desired.

Yield: 5 servings (⅔ cup each)

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 340 calories, 8 grams fat, 25 milligrams sodium, 63 grams carbohydrate, 8 grams fiber, 8 grams protein

Shout for Sauerkraut! Thu, 25 Oct 2018 11:32:00 +0000 Sauerkraut is the German word for "sour cabbage" and is most notably known for it's use in German-inspired dishes. However, it actually originated in China and has now become one of the most well known fermented products on the market.

Sauerkraut is shredded cabbage that has been fermented to impart a tangy-tart flavor while preserving the cabbage for longer storage time. Sauerkraut specifically goes through lacto-fermentation. When the cabbage bathes in a salt-water brine, lactobacillus, a strain of bacteria found on plants, will convert the sugars in the cabbage into lactic acid, which is a preservative that inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria.

Other than having a large amount of sodium, sauerkraut, along with other fermented vegetables, are quite nutritious, as they are packed with probiotics. Probiotics are live bacteria that are naturally present in fermented foods and can make foods more digestible, boost immunity and improve gastrointestinal health. However, most of the sauerkraut available at the store has been heat-treated, which kills the gut healthy probiotics. If you're not making your own, look for sauerkraut in the refrigerated section of health food stores for your best gamble at finding kraut with probiotics.

In the same way, cooking sauerkraut will likely kill the probiotics you've worked so hard to get. Use raw sauerkraut as a condiment on top of burgers, or sausage, or in a Reuben sandwich. Use it as a last minute addition to scrambled eggs and potatoes or on top of pizza. Of course, a healthier way to get kraut in your diet is to make a vegetable salad with it, such as in the recipe below.

German Sauerkraut Salad (Printable PDF)

2 cups sauerkraut

1 cup chopped celery

1 cup chopped red bell pepper

½ cup shredded carrots

⅓ cup chopped sweet onion

1 apple, cored and diced

⅓ cup olive oil

¼ cup sugar

¼ teaspoon black pepper

Drain sauerkraut in a sieve over a bowl. Measure about ½ cup of liquid and reserve. Discard the rest of the liquid. In a large bowl, stir together drained sauerkraut, celery, red pepper, carrots, onion and apple. In a separate bowl, whisk reserved sauerkraut liquid, olive oil, sugar and pepper. Pour over sauerkraut mixture and stir. Let salad sit in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight before serving.

Yield: 6 servings

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 190 calories, 12 grams fat, 540 milligrams sodium, 20 grams carbohydrate, 4 grams fiber, 1 gram protein

Save the Seeds! Thu, 18 Oct 2018 08:56:00 +0000 As you carve frightening or charming faces in your jack-o-lanterns this Halloween, be sure to keep the seeds for a nutritious snack. Pumpkin seeds are truly one of the greatest rewards to this fall activity.

Saving the seeds is easy. Once cutting out the stem of the pumpkin, the fun part begins! Reach inside the pumpkin to remove the "guts." Separate the pulp from the seeds, and put the seeds into a colander. This is a great activity for kids who love slime! Rinse the seeds, moving them around with your hands, to remove all the pulp. Pat dry with a paper towel. Some recipes call for seeds to be boiled before roasted, which allows the seeds to cook more evenly. Whichever way you do it, before roasting, toss the seeds with a bit of oil and have fun choosing your seasonings. Try cinnamon and sugar, pumpkin spice seasoning, or reduced sodium taco seasoning. After roasting, let the seeds cool and store in an air-tight container.

Pumpkin seeds, depending on the cultivar, are high in protein, fiber and unsaturated fats. Enjoy them in a trail mix or granola or as a crunch on top of soups, salads or desserts.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds (Printable PDF)

1 quart water

2 Tablespoons salt

2 cups pumpkin seeds

1 Tablespoon olive or canola oil

Preheat oven to 250°F. Pick through seeds and remove any cut seeds. Remove as much of the stringy fibers as possible. Bring the water and salt to boil. Add the seeds and boil for 10 minutes. Drain; spread on paper towel and pat dry. Place the seeds in a bowl with oil and toss. Spread evenly on a large cookie sheet. Place in the oven and roast seeds for 30 to 40 minutes. Stir about every 10 minutes, until golden brown. Turn oven temperature up to 325°F. Roast seeds for additional 5 minutes. Let seeds cool. Store in an airtight container.

Yield: 2 cups, (8 servings, ¼ cup each)

Note: Boiling in a salt-water solution will roast the seeds more evenly. However, this step can be skipped. If not boiling and directly salting seeds, use ~1/2 teaspoon salt and/or additional spices.

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 90 calories, 5 grams fat, 150 milligrams sodium, 9 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams fiber, 3 grams protein

To learn more about pumpkins, including how to prepare and cook a fresh pumpkin, go to University of Illinois Extension's Pumpkins and More website:

Root for the Turnip! Thu, 04 Oct 2018 15:58:00 +0000 Autumn is an ideal time to savor the flavors of root vegetables, including turnips. Turnips belong to the cabbage family, and most often resemble their cousins, rutabaga and kohlrabi. They have a mild flavor and texture like potatoes, thus are delicious boiled and mashed or oven roasted. They're also ideal for soups, stews and casseroles.

Turnips are a bonus vegetable, containing two ingredients packed in one. Not only are turnips grown for their root, they're also grown for their greens, and it's a pity to use one and not the other. Turnip greens are delicious sautéed and drizzled with a squeeze of lemon juice and dash of salt and pepper. They also go well in soups or boiled and flavored with a ham hock.

Look for turnips that have smooth skins without soft spots. Small or medium sized turnips tend to be sweeter and less bitter. If you're lucky enough to purchase or grow the whole vegetable, store the greens separate from the root. Turnips contain more water than other root vegetables and will deteriorate more quickly. They will last approximately one week stored in the vegetable crisper drawer of the refrigerator.

Turnips are a low calorie addition to a healthy meal plan. One cup of chopped turnips contain about 36 calories and provide roughly 35% of your daily vitamin C needs. The greens are even better; they are loaded with vitamins A, C and K, as well as calcium, folate and iron. It's time to stop letting other root vegetables, like potatoes and squash, have all the spotlight. Share the stage and let turnips enter the scene!

Oven Roasted Turnip Fries (Printable PDF)

2-3 (or 1 lb.) medium turnips, peeled and cut into matchsticks

1 Tablespoon vegetable oil

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon paprika

½ teaspoon onion powder

¼ teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

Preheat oven to 425°F. Spray large baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. In a large bowl, toss turnips in oil. In a small bowl, combine garlic powder, paprika, onion powder and pepper. Sprinkle seasonings over turnips and toss. Spread onto greased baking sheet. Sprinkle with fresh rosemary. Bake until crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, about 20-25 minutes.

Yield: 4 servings

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 210 calories, 4 grams fat, 5 milligrams sodium, 42 grams carbohydrate, 9 grams fiber, 3 grams protein

Ratatouille, the Food not the Movie Fri, 28 Sep 2018 11:06:00 +0000 Sadly, only one in ten American adults meet the recommended amount of fruits (1 ½ - 2 cups) and vegetables (2 – 3 cups) each day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you sheepishly think to yourself that this is you, start the autumn season off with a healthy start and a hearty bowl of ratatouille.

Ratatouille is a French stew packed with vegetables, including eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, bell peppers and onions, and flavored with herbs. It's typically on the menu in the late summer of home gardeners who are looking for a way to use up their bounty before it rots. With the availability of produce at the grocery store and winter farmers markets, this warm stew, however, can be enjoyed throughout the cooler seasons, as well.

It can be true that when vegetables enter the menu, so does the prep work of peeling and chopping them, as well as the time to cook them. Vegetables, though, don't always have to be whole or fresh. Swallow the extra cost and buy them pre-chopped, or look for no-added-salt frozen or canned versions. Try the recipe below to make ratatouille in the microwave, which can also save time.

Ratatouille is packed with dietary fiber, potassium, vitamins A, C and K, folate and much more. With so many vegetables included, you're bound to meet the recommended daily amount of veggies your body needs.

Lean and Easy Ratatouille (Printable PDF)

1 medium onion, chopped

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 small eggplant, peeled and cubed

2 small zucchini, cubed

3 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped or 1 (14.5 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes with juice)

1 green pepper, chopped

¼ cup fresh parsley, minced

3 Tablespoons tomato paste

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 Tablespoon white wine vinegar

Combine the onion and oil in a 3-quart casserole dish. Cover, venting on the sides, and microwave on high for 1 ½ minutes, or until the onions are tender. Stir in the eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, pepper, parsley, tomato paste, garlic, basil and thyme. Cover again, and microwave on high, stirring occasionally for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Stir in the vinegar. Let stand about five minutes.

Yield: 6 servings

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 90 calories, 1 gram fat, 25 milligrams sodium, 17 grams carbohydrate, 5 grams fiber, 3 grams protein

Source: adapted from NDSU Extension Service

Holy Guacamole! Thu, 20 Sep 2018 10:42:00 +0000 Is there really anything better than guacamole? It's a test to one's self-restraint to not eat the whole bowl of dip in one sitting. This mouth-watering avocado-based dip is a healthy snack when eaten in moderation.

Occasionally called by its nickname, "guac," it's made by mashing avocados with salt and adding traditional ingredients, such as tomatoes, garlic, onion and lime juice. It's the avocados that can cause the calorie count to soar, but that doesn't mean they aren't healthy for you. Avocados contain monounsaturated fats, which can improve blood cholesterol levels, and they are packed with folate, vitamins E, C and B6, potassium and fiber. One-half cup of guacamole contains about 180 calories and 16 grams of fat. Of course, you have to add on the calories of the tortilla chips that you're likely scooping it with! But as long as that ½ cup of guac doesn't stretch much further, it's a delicious and nutritious snack to eat. The recipe below uses beans to stretch the yield further and add protein and additional fiber.

Besides tortilla chips, consider other dipping companions. Red pepper strips and radishes are two of my favorites. Guacamole can serve as a spread on sandwiches, instead of mayonnaise. Try it on toast in the morning with sliced hard-boiled egg. Use it as a spread on bruschetta. Top a baked potato with fresh guac instead of sour cream, or serve it with fish in place of tartar sauce.

Use ripe avocados when making guacamole. An avocado is ripe when it gives just slightly when squeezed. Refrigerate guacamole and use within 2 to 3 days. That is if it even lasts that long!

White Bean Guacamole (Printable PDF)

2 ripe avocados

1 (15 oz.) can white beans, drained and rinsed

2 to 3 large garlic cloves, peeled

4 Tablespoons lime juice, fresh or bottled

3 Roma tomatoes, chopped

⅓ cup red onion, chopped

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

½ cup cilantro, chopped (optional)

Cut avocado in half and remove pit. Peel avocado and cut in chunks. Put beans, all but about ¼ of the avocado, garlic, and lime juice in a food processor. Cover and process for one minute or until smooth. Spoon into medium bowl. Fold in remaining chunks of avocado, tomatoes, onion, salt, pepper, and cilantro. Serve with chips or spread on wraps or sandwiches.

Yield: 8 servings

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 140 calories, 8 grams fat, 220 milligrams sodium, 16 grams carbohydrate, 5 grams fiber, 5 grams protein

Source: North Dakota State University Extension Service