Butternut Squash Enchiladas

October 5th, 2015

butternut-squash-enchiladasButternut squash is one of my favorite things to grow in my garden. I love the flavor, texture, and smell of a bowl of steaming hot squash. Unfortunately, I was not able to grow butternut squash in my garden this year, but I know I can find an abundance of it (at a good price) at the Farmers Market and grocery store this time of year.

The tricky thing about butternut squash is preparing it. It is hard to cut and even harder to peel. It took me many, many, many tries to finally find the best way for me to prepare it. To find out the easiest way to prepare butternut squash, watch this video with Danielle, one of our student staff members.

If you do not like squash served plain, try our recipe of the month for October – Butternut Squash Enchiladas. This recipe takes typical enchiladas and boosts their nutrition by adding cooked, cubed butternut squash to the filling. These enchiladas are an easy and tasty way to get the vitamin A and fiber our bodies need.




Butternut Squash Enchiladas

Serving Size: 1 enchilada
Serves: 8
Ingredients: Butternut Squash Enchiladas-web
  • 2 1/2 cups butternut squash (or other winter squash), cooked
  • 1 can (15 ounces)  black beans (drained and rinsed)
  • 1/2 cup onions, diced (1/2 medium onion)
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped or 3 tablespoons dried cilantro
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 cup  2% fat cheese, shredded (like cheddar or Mexican blend), divided
  • 8 tortillas (6″)
  • 1  cup salsa or 1 can (10 ounces) red or green enchilada sauce
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
  1. Preheat oven to 375 ºF.
  2. Mix the squash, beans, onion, cilantro, garlic powder, and cumin in a bowl.
  3. Mix 3/4 cup of the cheese into the squash mixture.
  4. Put a 1/2 cup strip of filling on each tortilla. Roll the tortilla around the filling. Put the tortilla into a greased 9″ x13 ” baking dish with the seam down.
  5. Cover the tortillas with the salsa or enchilada sauce. Put the rest of the cheese (1/4 cup) on the salsa or sauce.
  6. Bake for 25 minutes.
  7. Serve each enchilada with 1 tablespoon of Greek yogurt.

  • Use a medium butternut squash (2 to 3 pounds) to make about 2 cups of diced squash.
  • Use spices like onion powder, chili powder, or cayenne pepper instead of the cumin or garlic powder.
  • Put 2 to 3 tortillas at a time in the microwave. Heat for 10 seconds so they do not tear.

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Chicken Stock – An Easy Kitchen DIY!

September 28th, 2015

I am a soup lover from way back. I eat it most days in the winter and it is one of my favorite things to cook when the weather gets chilly. Homemade soup is often much healthier than soup from a can and it tastes so much better. Even though I love to make soup, it took me years to get up the guts to try making my own stock. It seemed like the people who I saw doing it were chefs on TV and that’s just not me.

I jumped the hurdle and did it myself and was pleased to find that it really is easy and the stock tastes much richer than what I was buying at the grocery store. Here is a link to a general guide on making your own stock. The guide involves making a few choices, here are the exact steps I took. My apologies for the extra-long blog, but I thought you all would want the details!

1. Put bone-in chicken pieces in the bottom of a large pot. I used a mix of thighs and breasts because that’s what I had. I used about two pounds or so. You can use bones from roasted chicken instead of chicken pieces, but since I wanted the chicken meat, I went ahead and used pieces. chicken in pot
 2. Add a few carrots, a few ribs of celery, a garlic bulb cut in half the long way and two large onions (I used three because mine were tiny). You can add other root vegetables like turnips or parsnips if you have them. This is a great use up for veggies that may be getting close to spoiling. Just clean the veggies, there is no need to cut them up, they’re going to get strained out anyway.  veggies in pot
3. Fill the pot with water so the vegetables are covered.
 4. Top off with herbs and spices. I chose the following:

  • 2t dried parsley
  • 2t black pepper
  • 5 bay leaves
  • 15 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 5 sprigs fresh rosemary
 herbs 1
 *Note: fresh herbs are not necessary, dried versions of these herbs would have been fine too. I just happened to have them growing in a pot on my back patio. If you choose dried, use two teaspoons thyme and 1 teaspoon rosemary. You’ll see I didn’t include salt. This is because the recipes I use this stock for will call for salt and I can add it at that time. I can keep the sodium in my recipes down if I don’t salt it twice.
5. Pop a lid on the pot, bring it to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and let it go for about two hours. In the meantime, enjoy the awesome aroma!  lid on pot
6. Once the stock is finished cooking, fish out the chicken pieces using a pair of tongs and set them aside to cool. Once cool, remove the skin and bones and refrigerate the chicken for your next recipe.  chicken chopped
7. Once the stock has cooled a bit, place a large strainer over an even larger bowl and pour the stock through the strainer. The big pieces of vegetables will get caught in the strainer and they can be discarded. You’ll be left with beautiful golden stock. Having a helper for this step is a good idea. My apologies for no picture of this step, I got a bit distracted with trying not to burn myself!
8. At this point, you’ll want to refrigerate or freeze your stock. Once it is cold, the fat from the chicken will harden and you can spoon it right off.  fat on top
9. You’re ready to use your homemade stock for soups, steaming vegetables, cooking rice or thinning sauces.  strained stock

Let’s be honest, it took a while to make my own stock, but most of the time I was able to do things around the house. I didn’t need to tend the stock for the full two hours and my homemade stock is healthy, delicious and inexpensive. I made six quarts of stock for about $10. The stock at my grocery store costs about $2.50 per quart, so six quarts would cost about $15. It feels good to know I can do it myself. I hope you’ll give it a try!

s Signature-1

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Baking Bread like Grandma

September 21st, 2015

NoKneadBreadI come from a family of cooks. I started cooking at a young age and continue to enjoy it today. A favorite memory I have is learning to make homemade whole wheat bread from my grandma. I remember her teaching me to knead the bread and then being patient to let it rise before cooking it. As a 4-Her I made my grandma’s bread for the county fair and got a purple ribbon. It went onto the state fair where it got a blue ribbon.

These days when I make bread, I like to use our No Knead Whole Wheat Bread. I don’t have to knead it like I did my grandma’s bread, but I do still have to be patient to let it rise! The bread doesn’t take long to mix up and you can do other things while it rises and bakes. My family enjoys it fresh from the oven with a little butter and my son really likes it toasted with peanut butter. It is also great for sandwiches. I’ve made the dough into dinner rolls for a family holiday and they were well liked.

As the weather starts to cool off, warm up your kitchen by making this bread. It freezes well so you can make two loaves and put one in airtight packaging in the freezer for later. Bread should not be stored in the refrigerator because it draws moisture out of the bread, making it go stale sooner.  Watch our ‘How to’ video on storing bread.

Jodi Signature

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Healthy and Homemade Cookbook – Available Now!

September 14th, 2015

cookbook-coverThe Spend Smart. Eat Smart. Team at Iowa State University has been working throughout the past year to produce the newest edition of the Healthy and Homemade Cookbook. The seventy recipes in this collection are tasty, easy and low-cost!

From main dishes and sides to salads, snacks and desserts, this cookbook has everything you need to make healthy cooking easy and fun. It’s like having the best recipes from Spend Smart. Eat Smart. tucked in your kitchen drawer. You can purchase an English or Spanish language copy of the cookbook for just five dollars from the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Online Store.

Happy cooking!

s Signature-1






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Vegetable Pasta Soup

September 7th, 2015

vegetable-pasta-soupI always look forward to fall, it is my favorite season. I enjoy watching the harvest come in and I like that the weather cools down. I also enjoy putting my soup recipes back into my menu rotation. Our recipe of the month for September is Vegetable Pasta Soup.

Here are the reasons I love to include soup in the menu rotation for the cooler months:

  • It is loaded with vegetables. Many people do not eat enough vegetables, and eating a bowl of soup is an easy way to get the vegetables we need.
  • It freezes well. I value recipes that freeze well because they make future meal prep so much easier. I freeze individual servings for lunches and I freeze larger batches for a quick evening or weekend meal.
  • It is versatile. I do not need to make this recipe the same way twice, so no one gets bored with the same old thing. The vegetables and seasonings can be changed and adjusted based on what I have on hand and what is on sale at the grocery store. And, if I want to add protein to this soup, I simply need to add in a can of beans or some leftover chopped meat. A note of caution if you do change things up with this recipe, watch it closely because you may need to add water.

Try our Vegetable Pasta Soup – it may just make its way in to your menu plans for the cool fall and cold winter ahead.


Vegetable Pasta Soup

Serving Size: 1 1/2 cups | Serves: 8vegetable-pasta-soup-label

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 4 cups chopped or sliced vegetables (like onions, carrots, and zucchini)
  • 1 can (14 1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes with green chilies
  • 1 can (14 1/2 ounces) low sodium vegetable or chicken broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning or dried basil
  • 2 cups small whole wheat pasta (shell or macaroni)
  • 6 cups fresh spinach leaves (about 1/2 pound), thoroughly washed (or kale, collard greens, or 10 ounces of frozen spinach)
  1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until hot. Add onions and carrots. Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are softened. This should take about 3 minutes.
  2. Stir in zucchini and canned tomatoes. Cook 3 to 4 minutes.
  3. Stir in the broth, water, salt, and Italian seasoning or dried basil. Bring to a boil.
  4. Stir in the pasta and spinach. Return to a boil.
  5. Cook until the pasta is tender, using the time on the package for a guide.
Notes: Prewashed or ready to eat spinach does not have to be washed. Use plain diced tomatoes for less spiciness.
  • Soup freezes well.
  • Use washed and diced garden tomatoes and homemade broth if they are available. Keep cut tomatoes cold until you need them.
  • Wash fresh vegetables under running water before preparing.

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August 31st, 2015

canningHave you been bitten by the canning bug? Buying fresh local produce at the farmers market or growing it yourself in your own back yard garden has been inspiring lots of people to give canning a try. If you would like to try canning before making a huge investment in equipment, we have some suggestions.

There are two different types of canners that the home food preserver can use. Pressure canners can be expensive, so if you want to try canning, start with food that could be processed in a boiling water bath canner.

canning chart blog
Before you go out and spend a lot of money buying supplies, consider trying canning with equipment you already have in your home.

  • Stock pot – Large enough for canning jars to be totally submerged by 2 inches
  • Rack— this allows water to flow all around the jars and provides even heating inside the jar. You can use a round rack from a roaster or one that you cool cookies on.  If you don’t have a rack, make one by tying canning jar rings together with wire twist ties.
  • Lid for the canner—if your pot does not have a lid, use a cookie sheet or pizza pan for the lid.

You may have a family member or co-worker that canned in the past and has jars that they would like to pass on. You will want to check for cracks and nicks in the jars before using them. Be sure to wash them well or send them through the dishwasher before using them.  You can find jar rings and flats in most grocery stores. Resist the temptation to buy more than you will use in your first canning adventure. The jar lids—or flats as they are called—do expire.

Now that you have the equipment that you need and some idea of the sort of food you could preserve, it is time to find a recipe. At AnswerLine, we advise only using safe, tested recipes for your home preserved foods. By tested recipe, we mean a recipe that has been scientifically tested in a laboratory to ensure there is enough acid in the food and that it is heated long enough in the jars to remain safe over the storage life of the food. Generally speaking, recipes that have been passed down in your family don’t tend to be tested recipes. You can find tested recipes from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, The National Center for Home Food Preservation, the USDA Canning Guide, and the Ball Blue Books.  The links for these recipe resources are at the bottom of this blog. We like to use current recipes, so we advise not using any recipes older than 2009. Follow these links, or call us at AnswerLine and we will help you find recipes for the food you would like to preserve.

Recipe Reminders

  • Follow the recipe as it is written. This means no additions of other foods that might be tasty—the recipe wasn’t tested for variations. If you want to change things a bit, do it after you open the jar to serve the food.
  • Use the amount of headspace inside the jar that is prescribed in the recipe; this will give you the best quality end product.
  • Remember to adjust your recipe for altitude. All canning recipes were written as if everyone lives at sea level.  Those of us (most of the state of Iowa) that live above 1000 feet will need to add 5 minutes to any boiling water bath canning time for safe processing. If you use a weighted gauge pressure canner, add 5 pounds to the weight. If you are unsure of the altitude at your house, give us a call. We love to help.

We hope you enjoy your first attempt at canning and find a satisfying new hobby. Remember you can contact us with questions. You can reach us at 1-800-262-3804 in Iowa, 1-800-854-1678 in Minnesota, and 1-888-6336 in South Dakota. You can also call us at our local number 515-296-5883 if your area code is not from one of the above three states. Email us at answer@iastate.edu. or contact us on Facebook.

The AnswerLine staffAnswerLine
Liz, Beth, and Jill



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Blanching your Produce

August 24th, 2015

We get lots of calls at AnswerLine from gardeners who are getting ready to freeze their vegetables. Blanching helps maintain the quality of garden produce and even experienced gardeners often ask us to review the directions for blanching as it has been a while since they did it last.

Blanching food is done for quality reasons, not safety reasons. Therefore, you do not need to blanch a food that you are freezing to keep it safe.  Blanching destroys enzymes that naturally occur in food so they won’t overly soften the food while it is stored in the freezer. In order to destroy enzymes, the food must be heated long enough to penetrate the flesh of the vegetable. The National Center for Home Food Preservation has a guide available with times for blanching various vegetables.

We advise callers to work with small batches of vegetables. Otherwise the food will be in the boiling water too long and will be over cooked. If you can use a basket to lower the food into the boiling water, you can easily remove it all at once. Then you can submerge the food in ice water to stop the cooking process. After the food has cooled, package and freeze it.

Steps for blanching food:

  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
  • Place a quart sized batch of vegetables in the water.
  • After the water returns to a boil (which should be within 1 minute), set the timer.
  • When time is up, plunge the vegetables into ice water.
  • Remove the vegetables and shake or blot excess water.
  • Package and freeze.

Remember that you should not put stacks of freshly blanched food into the freezer. Instead, spread the packages around inside the freezer. This allows the food to freeze quickly, which will give the best possible frozen food. You can also spread food onto a tray or cookie sheet with sides and freeze overnight. Package it the next day and the vegetables will not stick together—just like those you buy at the grocery store.

Happy gardening and happy blanching. Remember you can contact us with questions. You can reach us at 1-800-262-3804 in Iowa, 1-800-854-1678 in Minnesota, and 1-888-6336 in South Dakota. You can also call us at our local number 515-296-5883 if your area code is not from one of the above three states. Email us at answer@iastate.edu. or contact us on Facebook.

The AnswerLine staffAnswerLine

Liz, Beth, and Jill


Link for guide  http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/freeze/blanching.html

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The Down Low on Kids and Constipation

August 17th, 2015

When I was asked to write a blog for back to school the first topic that came into my mind was kids and constipation. It is often a topic no one wants to bring up, but once someone does, everyone wants to talk about it!

Constipation is a challenge we face on a regular basis with our youngest daughter. Honestly if she had a choice she would never go! This fall she starts kindergarten and I worry the holding will get worse as she may have limited access to the bathroom or simply be too afraid or shy to use it.

We have met with her pediatrician on several occasions to address this issue and to rule out any underlying health conditions. We have learned she needs to consume more fiber-rich foods, drink plenty of water, participate in daily physical activity, and the most challenging one for her….take time to go.

Fiber Foods and H2O

Many “kid foods”, such as chicken nuggets, pizza, crackers, etc. lack fiber. A low fiber diet often results in firm, painful to push out, stool. Foods that are naturally rich in fiber tend to keep stool soft. Whole grains, nuts and seeds, beans, fruits and vegetables can help. And don’t forget water! Water is very important to keep the stool moving through the system. We try to start her day off with fruit as part of her breakfast and incorporate additional fruits and vegetables at dinner and at snack. Her school does allow students to have water bottles, so we plan to send one every day.

fiber blog chart

Get Moving in More Ways than One!

kids playing outdoors park runningPhysical activity can encourage bowel movement. Organized sports or dance classes are great forms of physical activity, but we have learned it’s best not to be overscheduled. These types of activities mean less time at home, which sometimes can lead to less time to go to the bathroom. We encourage physical activity throughout the day like walking to school, playing outside, or taking the dog for a walk after dinner. Incorporating short amounts of physical activity throughout the day can go a long way.

Taking Time to Go

Many times children may ignore the urge to go because they don’t want to take a break from what they are doing. The longer they hold it the harder the stool may become. It is important to get on a schedule of taking time to go around the same time each day. We have her sit on the toilet for about 10 minutes each evening, reading a book, coloring, etc. We do this even if she says she doesn’t have to go. More often than not, she goes. It has now become part of her daily routine, just like eating breakfast, brushing her teeth, going to school, etc.

Constipation is common among children. Good nutrition, physical activity, and making bathroom breaks part of their daily routine can go a long way to help keep your children healthy and comfortable. If you are concerned about your child’s constipation, contact your pediatrician.

Carrie Scheidel, MPH
Iowa Department of Education

Jody Gatewood, MS, RD, LD
Registered Dietitian, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

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Hitting the Road!

August 10th, 2015

packed lunch healthySummer is the perfect time to load up the car for a getaway with the family. Regardless of the destination, you’ll need to eat along the way. The highways are lined with fast food restaurants and gas stations, but that’s about it. Not only are the options at these places high in calories and low in nutrients… they can get expensive too!

At the Drive-Thru:

Fast food restaurants may seem like the inexpensive choice at first. But when the whole family is hungry, it can get pricey. Check out what you could end up spending on one trip through the drive-thru.

  • 1 Bacon Cheeseburger Meal (fries and drink included) – $6.49
  • 1 Fried Chicken Sandwich Meal (fries and drink included) – $6.19
  • 2 Kids Meals- $3.19 each
  • Total = $19.06 plus tax

In addition to the cost, meals at fast food places are packed with sodium, fat, and calories. One sandwich can have over 500 calories and 1000 milligrams of sodium and a medium fountain drink can contain a quarter of a cup of sugar.

At the Gas Station:

Gas stations and convenience stores may be quick and easy, but it will be hard to find healthy options.

  • 2 bags of chips – $1.99 each
  • 2 candy bars – $1.39 each
  • 2 sodas – $1.79 each
  • 2 bottles of juice -$1.99 each
  • Total = $14.32 plus tax

You could spend almost $20 for food that isn’t very filling. It won’t be long before hungry stomachs have you pulling over at another exit.

Even if you find healthy options on the road, you can count on spending more than if you bring food from home. A banana at a gas station costs about $1.00, you could bring 4 bananas from home for the same price.

From Your Cooler:

Take control of your road trip! Fill up a cooler with snacks before you leave. You can choose healthy options, and you’ll save money that you can use for other fun adventures on your trip. Check out this meal:

  • 4 turkey sandwiches on whole wheat bread – $5.44
  • 2 apples- $1.58
  • 2 bananas- $0.38
  • 4 low fat cheese sticks- $1.42
  • 1 package of baby carrots- $1.28
  • Ice water in reusable bottles – FREE
  • Total = $10.10

Just like that, you’ve made a meal that keeps everyone full and happy for half the price. You can rest easy on your trip knowing that your family got the nutrition they needed. Now, bring on the open road!

ISU Student

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Make Ahead Breakfast Burritos

August 3rd, 2015

breakfast-burritosWhen breakfast time rolls around each morning, I am very hungry. This is a good thing because it is certain that I will eat the most important meal of the day. The problem is that my husband and children are not big breakfast eaters – they are satisfied with milk, fruit, and cereal or toast. That is just not enough for me, especially now that I am expecting child #3.

To solve my problem, I looked to our August recipe – Make Ahead Breakfast Burritos. I make a batch of the burritos, freeze them, and then grab one out of the freezer and reheat when I need it. These are perfect for me on the mornings when I need more to eat than the rest of my family. On top of that, these burritos are full of the nutrients I need to keep myself and my baby healthy. I get fiber, vitamins, and minerals from the vegetables and whole wheat tortillas, protein from the eggs, and calcium from the cheese.

Even if you are not a big breakfast eater, this recipe is still great because it cuts down on breakfast prep and clean up time. Busy fall schedules are going to be starting up again, so this recipe gives you a quick, yet filling, breakfast before you head off to work or school for the day. I think I am going to make another batch of these soon, so they are in the freezer when “back to school” time rolls around.


Make Ahead Breakfast Burritos

Serving Size: 1 burrito | Serves: 8
Make Ahead Breakfast Burritos-webIngredients: 
  •  Nonstick cooking spray
  • 1 cup potatoes, diced (1 medium potato)
  • 1/2 cup onions, diced (1/2 medium onion)
  • 1 cup bell peppers, diced (1 medium pepper)
  • 8 eggs, beaten
  • 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 cup 2% fat cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 8 flour tortillas (8″)
  1. Spray a large skillet with cooking spray. Cook the potatoes for 6-10 minutes over medium heat.
  2. Add onions and peppers to the potatoes. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes until the potatoes are browned.
  3. Add beaten eggs to the vegetable mixture. Cook for 4-5 minutes over medium heat. Stir off and on until there is no liquid.
  4. Stir in the garlic powder and pepper.
  5. Roll up each burrito. Use 2 tablespoons of cheese and 1/2 cup of the egg mixture. Serve or freeze.
  6. You can freeze the burritos. Wrap each burrito tightly in plastic wrap. Freeze in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Seal wrapped burritos in a freezer bag when they are frozen.
To reheat the frozen burritos. Remove the plastic wrap. Wrap burrito in a damp paper towel. Set microwave on medium power. Heat burrito for 3-4 minutes.
  •  Wash hands after handling raw eggs and before making burritos.
  • Wash vegetables under running water.
  • Add hot peppers, salsa, or cayenne pepper for a spicier burrito.

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