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Ways to Cut Your Grocery Bill

Are you looking for ways to slash the amount you spend for groceries?  Here are four simple, conventional steps to cut the amount spent for groceries without compromising on nutrition or health:

  1. Plan Your Meals.  Always go to the grocery store with a plan.  Begin by planning meals for a week and grow that to a month.  The website, http://moneysmartfamily.com/recipes/ is a good place to start with this venture offering recipes and tips.  A shopping list is a must.  Consider using frozen fruit and vegetables as opposed to fresh and adding occasional meat-less meals in your plan.  Moneysmartfamily.com also offers a preprinted list of all the things to buy which also serves as a mental cue to check stock items making sure the amount needed is in your stock.  Use your leftovers wisely.
  2. Shop the Deals. Watch the weekly sales ads.  Buy in a larger quantities if it makes sense to keep it on your shelf or in your freezer when you spot a deal.  Be aware of expiration dates and rotate your stock so that it is used in a timely fashion.  Be savvy with coupons and buy only items that fit your plan.   Consider discounted “must-go” food items; grocery stores usually mark down products, produce, and meat when they get close to their sell-by-date.  These discounted items are still perfectly safe for you to purchase.
  3. Minimize Grocery Store Visits. Frequent trips to the grocery store usually result in impulsive purchases.  Attempt to cut your visits to once a week or longer; with a plan this usually is not hard to do.
  4. Pay with Cash. With cash in hand, you know exactly how much you can spend.  This will force one to seek out the necessities or only the items on the planned list.  The little extras are okay as long as they are part of the plan.

From PennyHoarders.com comes some not-so-conventional  means of lowering your food bill. All of these options are available for free.

  1.  Become a Nielsen  Consumer Panel member.  The Nielsen company will pay you to scan your groceries weekly.
  2. Inbox.com pays 10 cents for every coupon you print from their website.
  3. Buy common meats and meat cuts in bulk from Zaycon Fresh.
  4. Sign up for Pillsbury and Betty Crocker emails to received $250 in coupons and access to free product samples.
  5. Register with Kelloggs for $150 in coupons plus points for buying Kellogg products that can be turned into grocery money.

So regardless of whether you choose conventional or non-conventional options or some combination, you will save grocery dollars that can be turned into cash for saving, paying down debt, or for something fun.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Making Granola Bars a Healthy Treat

Crunchy, chewy, chocolatey, fruity Granola Bars are an American snack and breakfast staple and favorite.  In fact, granola bars are so popular, they even have their own annual day of celebration in January.  Pitched as a healthy food (and they can be), the nutrition label often tells otherwise—most are little more than candy bars in disguise!  Many are loaded with sugar and high fructose sugar and short on fiber and protein.  The satiety value is low—in a short amount of time, hunger sets in again.

So how can you enjoy your favorite snack without leaving you hungry or wanting more?  Here are a couple of ideas to up the granola bar game:

  1. Look for a better bar.  Check the ingredients and nutrition label.  Specifically look for bars that are high in fiber and protein, sweetened with honey or natural syrups, and include nuts, grains, seeds, and fruits.
  2. Make or concoct your own. There is an abundance of recipes to choose from.  Groovy Granola Bars from Oregon State University is an easy recipe to get you started.  Not only is it packed with fiber and protein, it also provides half of your daily value for Omega-3’s.  Change it up with other dried fruits, nuts, seeds, and even a few dark chocolate chips. Coconut palm sugar can be used to replace the brown sugar without altering the flavor.  However, the American Diabetes Assn cautions that coconut palm sugar but should be treat the same as brown sugar for those needing to count calories and carbohydrates.

We’d love to hear your granola bar story.  Please share in the comments!

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Add Some Avocado to Your Meals

Avocados have been a great price at the grocery store lately. I love to make guacamole and cut them up to put on salads but there are many other ways that you can eat them.  Here are a few suggestions to add more avocadoes to your diet.

  • Slice and put on sandwiches.
  • Add avocado to a homemade salad dressing.
  • Mash it and spread it on toast.
  • Use avocado instead of mayonnaise to make chicken salad.
  • Spread on bagels.
  • Use as a topper for baked potatoes.
  • Add them to a smoothie.

Avocados are harvested before they are ripe so expect that they will be firm to touch at the grocery store. To tell when your avocado is ready to eat place them in your palm and they should yield to gentle pressure. Avoid using your fingertips to tell if it is ripe since that could cause bruising and dark spots on the inside.  If your avocado is still firm and you want to use it more quickly stick it in a brown paper bag with an apple in it at room temperature. That will speed up the ripening process.  Remember don’t put your avocado in the refrigerator until it is ripe. Once ripe they can be stored in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.

Once your avocado is cut and exposed to air it can start to turn dark. To help keep it from turning dark after you cut it sprinkle or brush lemon or lime juice or white vinegar over the exposed area.  Then wrap with clear plastic wrap and store in an air tight container in the refrigerator.  If it gets dark cut off the top layer and the green fruit underneath is perfectly fine to eat.

Hopefully these suggestions have given you some ideas on ways to add avocados to your meals. They are a healthy and tasty addition!  For a few tips on cutting and peeling watch this video from the California Avocado Commission.

Beth Marrs

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Adult Home Economics Education. I love to cook and entertain and spend time with my family.

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Peanut Butter-Is it the enviable food?

Did you know that peanut butter, the “adored by millions, everyman’s staple”, contains neither butter nor nuts (peanuts are legumes) and originated as a health food of the upper classes?  First created by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg for use in his sanitarium, it satisfied the need for a protein-rich food that did not have to be chewed. Wealthy spa guests popularized it among the well-heeled.  A patent for peanut butter was granted to Dr. Kellogg on November 4, 1895 which is now celebrated as Peanut Butter Lovers Day in America.   After the boll weevil devastated cotton production, George Washington Carver encouraged southern farmers to adopt peanuts as a replacement crop.  With quantities of peanuts on the market, peanut butter was no longer just for the privileged and began to appear as a snack food.  It was featured at the St Louis World’s Fair in 1904. Hydrogenation in the 1920s gave rise to our modern day peanut butter by stopping separation of oil and solids and extending the shelf life.  The Food and Drug Administration gave peanut butter a food status in 1940.

Americans love peanut butter and consume approximately 65 million pounds of peanut butter each month. As beloved as peanut butter is, it has not escaped the perils of food industrialization with a spike in peanut allergies, deaths from salmonella contamination at processing plants, and concerns over its sugar, saturated fat, and sodium content.

With recent announcements from the National Institute of Health regarding peanut allergies in children, peanuts and peanut butter are back in the news and on the menu for infants and children.  Despite the concerns, peanut butter is heralded as a healthy food.  It’s packed with nutrition (protein, fiber, iron, Vitamins E and B6, potassium), has a high ratio of unsaturated to saturated fat ratio (heart-healthy monounsaturated fat), has a high satiety value, and potassium outweighs sodium in most. The downside to peanut butter might be the 190 calories, 16 grams (g) of fat, 7 g of carbohydrates for two tablespoons for those concerned about their waistline. If that is a concern, peanut butter powder may be a good alternative.  An article published by Michigan State University discusses the pros and cons of powder.  Further, studies show that peanut butter can actually help with weight loss.

Whether you’re a kid or otherwise, peanut butter is the perfect go-to food or on-the-go snack.  Because peanuts and peanut butter have the enviable combination of fiber and protein that fills you up and keeps you feeling full longer, they fuel a workout, a starving tummy, a meal, or even a dessert.

Peanut butter is a very versatile ingredient; as such, there is no shortage of delicious ways to pack peanut butter into you day.  Here are a few quick ideas for starters:

  • Add PB to smoothies
  • Make a PB and J (honey or fresh fruit) sandwich for lunch, workout, or after school snack
  • Stir PB into yogurt
  • Add PB to sauces or salad dressing
  • Add PB to oatmeal for breakfast
  • Spread PB on toast, pancakes, and waffles
  • Bake a batch of peanut butter cookies for dessert

One can find more creative ways to enjoy peanut butter at PB My Way sponsored by the Southern Peanut Growers.  For a fun twist on the everyday apple salad, try this family favorite:

Apple and Peanut Salad 
½ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup honey
¼ cup peanut butter
1 apple, cored and diced
1 carrot, grated
¼ cup celery, thinly sliced
¼ cup raisins
¼ cup chopped peanuts
Combine mayonnaise, honey and peanut butter.  Stir in remaining ingredients and chill.
Note:  half of the dressing mix is enough for our family and sometimes plain yogurt is substituted for the mayo.

What’s your favorite way to enjoy peanut butter?

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Subscription Meal Kits

It would be hard to miss the new trends in meal preparation. Everywhere I look, I see ads for subscription meal kits sent directly to the home.  I’ve wondered for a while just how expensive these prepared packages are, what kinds of foods are included, and just how fresh could the foods be in that sort of system.

I had the opportunity to check this out first hand when I received a coupon for 60% off on one of those websites. We were looking into this one day at work with the thought that we may want some first-hand knowledge at AnswerLine. We wanted to compare some of the different companies to compare cost, shipping, and available plans.  There are a larger number of companies that I realized.  The costs are similar and most companies offer meals that can be ready in about 30 minutes.

I ordered 3 meals for the week from one of the companies and thought that I might make the meals for my husband and myself. The package arrived shortly after noon on the day of the week that I chose in advance.  The food was well packaged and included 2 large ice packs that kept the food at a nice, safe, cold temperature.  The food was packaged in a very organized way, meats were double sealed—vacuum packed and then inserted into a second plastic bag to prevent cross contamination.  Vegetables were very fresh and appealing.  Small bags labeled for a specific meal contained small amounts of several different ingredients.  The only ingredient that I needed to have on hand was olive oil.

The recipes and directions were very clear and had step by step directions. Techniques that might be unfamiliar were demonstrated with videos on their website. I would recommend reading through the directions a time or two before preparing the meal.  It can be easy to be confused and forget as step or do something in the wrong order when working with unfamiliar ingredients.

After sharing the first meal with my husband, I thought it might be fun to gather the AnswerLine staff to prepare the other two meals. This would give us all some experience with meal kits and it would be a good opportunity for getting to know each other even better.  Marcia volunteered her home so we all met after work on a Monday night.  We worked together to make the first meal, enjoyed it and then prepared the second meal.  It was fun to work together as there is usually a fair amount of washing, chopping, and mixing to do with these meals.  The food was delicious, serving sizes were ample, and the preparation fun.  The meals are not inexpensive, but compared to picking up some fast food or restaurant take out the prices are comparable. These meals allowed me to try some new foods that I likely would not try on my own and to save some time by not going to the grocery store.  I also liked that there were not any left-over foods to deal with; either ingredients or leftover entrée.  Most companies will allow you to skip weeks of delivery so it could be something to use when you know in advance you will have a busy week.  I tried two more weeks of meal deliveries and I have to say that all the meals were tasty.  It is not something I plan to use on a regular basis, but I can see a place for this system.

This blog in no way endorses a specific company, but is designed to look into this new food trend. Let us know what works for you and your family during  busy times.  We plan to look at other ways to provide healthy meals in a hurry for your family.

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Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Cauliflower!

Cauliflower has recently seemed to be getting a lot of attention. A friend and I are looking forward to making time to try a new pizza recipe using a cauliflower crust. Because of all the recent attention I thought it would be interesting to re-visit cauliflower.

Cauliflower is a flowering member of the cabbage family and can be found year round. It is rich in vitamin C  providing 85% of the daily recommended amount in 1 cup. It is also a good source of potassium, fiber, and folate. The white edible portion is called the “curd” and the heavy outer leaf covering is called the “jacket leaves”. A whole cauliflower weighs @ 1 and 1/2 pounds and yields about 6 cups of florets.

When selecting fresh cauliflower choose heads that are solid, heavy, and unblemished. They should also have fresh green leaves. Store cauliflower in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator and for best quality use within 4 days. It can be eaten raw, steamed, roasted, sauted, microwaved, or grilled. You can use it to stir-fry, in soups or added to mashed potatoes. I also just recently saw a segment on TV making cauliflower “steaks”.

Cauliflower can be cooked whole or broken into florets. You may want to add milk or lemon juice when cooking to help maintain whiteness. If steaming, allow @20 minutes for whole and 6-10 minutes for florets. To microwave, use a covered dish with 1/4 cup water in. Microwave whole cauliflower 8-10 minutes and florets 6-8 minutes. The trick to boiling cauliflower is to cook head down to keep it under water. Boil a whole cauliflower 10-15 minutes and flowerets 3-6 minutes. My favorite way to prepare cauliflower is to roast it. I feel that really brings out the sweetness. Toss the florets onto a rimmed baking sheet and mix with olive oil then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in a preheated 425 degree oven for 35-40 minutes stirring occasionally.

The pizza crust my friend and I are looking forward to making involves ricing/grating the cauliflower and cooking it a little bit in the microwave. Hope it turns out to be blog worthy!

Marcia Steed

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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More banana flavor!

I am on a quest for a great banana bread recipe. I am looking for a loaf that is moist and tender with LOTS of banana flavor. I also like to be able to use very ripe bananas I have available in the freezer that I have purchased very inexpensively at the grocery store or have accumulated from not eating my fresh bananas in a timely manner.

While looking for a new recipe, I came across an article in Cook’s Illustrated, https://www.americastestkitchen.com/recipes/6067-ultimate-banana-bread-recipe, that recommended “juicing” the bananas then reducing the juice and adding it back into the batter with a little extra flour to compensate for the extra liquid.

Thawed frozen bananas release a large amount of liquid naturally. Peel them and put them in a mesh strainer over a bowl or pan to drain, stirring occasionally. You definitely need a mesh strainer for this step as larger holes allow too much banana pulp to strain through. Once you have collected the liquid, reduce it over medium-high heat down to one fourth cup. Stir the bananas into the banana juice. Add the rest of the wet ingredients and mix together; then stir into the dry ingredients.

If you are using fresh rather than frozen bananas you can use the same procedure but you need to microwave the fully ripe bananas for 5 minutes so they will release their juice.

I think this is a great way to add extra bananas to a banana bread recipe and thus a lot more banana flavor! It was a winner at my house!

Marcia Steed

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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Wild Black Walnuts Give a Variety of Options

If you want to know what brings the greed out in me, I’d have to say it is my new stash of shelled black walnuts.  Don’t ask—I’m not sharing!  If you’re new to black walnuts, you have no idea what a pain-stacking task it is to harvest, hull, cure, crack, and finally pick out the nut meat.  It’s a long and tedious process, but it is well worth the time and effort to me.  The nutmeats are hard to find and if you do, they are often expensive.  However, it’s the intense flavor that drives me to do it.

Black walnut is a generic term for the wild walnuts native to North America of which there are about five different varieties.  Also known as the American walnut, they are related to hickory nuts and butternuts.  Black walnuts differ greatly from white English walnuts which are gown in orchards and have a mild flavor.  Wild black walnuts have a strong, earthy flavor.  English walnuts are easily obtained and are larger, softer, and shell easily.  Black walnuts are harder to obtain and become an ‘operation’ to acquire.  And once you have them, store them in the freezer to keep these precious ‘gems’ indefinitely.

Missouri leads the nation in wild black walnut production.  However, black walnuts are found throughout the USA and I’m lucky to live among several black walnut trees in central Iowa.  I’ll spare you the details of harvesting, hulling, curing, cracking, and shelling or picking as you can read all about it online.  One important detail to keep in mind is that black walnut juice stains everything so you’ll want to be careful where and how you do your processing.  And lastly, getting the nutmeat from the intricate shell is tedious thereby earning each and every bit and piece.  Patience is a virtue.  I harvested the nuts in October and just recently cracked and picked enough nuts to make my favorite black walnut treat.

Low in saturated fat, high in unsaturated fat, and a good source of protein, black walnuts are a delicious, healthful food. In addition, the nutmeat contains vitamin A, iron, minerals and fiber and serves as a cholesterol- and sugar-free snack or ingredient.   One can boost the nutritional value of favorite foods by adding black walnuts to salads, yogurt, and oatmeal.   Toasted black walnuts make a tasty addition to trail mix for a healthy snack. Commonly used in baked products, black walnuts are being used by chefs in creative ways to take their fish and chicken dishes up a notch.  Black walnuts can be used in various ways or in any recipe that calls for nuts.  However, with a strong, rich, smoky flavor you’ll want to choose recipes that can feature the black walnut flavor or use it sparingly as it will overpower everything else. It is suggested that you combine one part black walnuts to three parts English walnuts in recipes where just a little flavor is wanted.

A good place to start looking for black walnut recipes is at https://black-walnuts.com/  My mother’s Black Walnut Refrigerator Cookies has long been a favorite and something I look forward to each year.  The recipe follows and YES, I do share cookies!

Black Walnut Refrigerator Cookies
1 cup butter
2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
3 ½ cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 cup black walnuts

Beat the butter and sugar until smooth.  Add the eggs, one at a time, allowing each egg to blend into the sugar/margarine mixture. Mix in the flour, soda, and salt until just incorporated.  If dough is a little too soft, add a little more flour. Fold in the chopped nuts; mixing just enough to evenly combine.  Scrape the dough onto a sheet of waxed paper and form into a log. Roll tightly in the waxed paper and refrigerate until firm, about 4 hours.  Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Spray baking sheets with cooking spray.  Unwrap the dough, and cut into 1/4-inch slices. Place the cookies onto baking sheets spacing 1-inch apart. Bake in the preheated oven until the edges are golden, about 12 minutes. Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 1 minute before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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A Look at 10 Food Trends for 2017

20161229_182918Likely you have noticed that food offerings, recipes, restaurant menus, and grocery products have changed a lot in the last ten years.  Health issues, dietary needs, convenience, consumer awareness, and waste reduction initiatives are just some of the factors that have driven changes in the culinary market.

If you like to keep up with food and nutrition trends or practices, here are some ‘expert’ predictions of what we will likely see more of in 2017. In their ‘crystal bowl’ they see:

Sunflower protein becoming the protein powder mainstay.  Sunflower protein is easier to digest than other protein powders and is soy- and dairy-free making it nearly perfect for any diet.

Watermelon water rivaling coconut water for hydration and antioxidants.  Watermelon water offers a refreshing taste and is packed with lycopene, potassium and natural sugar making it a great post-workout cooler or alternative to alcohol.

Butter making a comeback.  In light of scientific studies that point to the dangers of artificial butters and margarines, butter contains no chemicals and takes less to satisfy the appetite.  In small amounts, butter is now considered a healthy food.

Natural sweeteners replacing sugar.  Honey and natural syrups will take the place of processed sugar in many prepared foods.

Soups rivaling smoothies as the complete meal.  Besides the social element of sitting down and slowly eating soup, soups offer more fiber and whole foods that are often lost in juicing. The soup trend is also touted as part of the minimalism social movement.

Natural fats favored over low-fat.  “Good”, non-saturated fats in small portions like those found in avocados and nuts provide essential nutrients for energy and brain function and are replacing the ‘low-fat’ trend of many years.

Exotic all-fruit concoctions becoming the new dessert.  These new desserts are offering combinations of Asian and Indian fruits that may be new to the American palate and with them come added nutrition, less sugar, and less saturated fat.

Bowls replacing plated meals.  Again, a product of the minimalism movement, bowls offer an entire, simple meal in a single receptacle at home or in fine restaurants—one bowl, one meal.  Recipes and combinations are popping up everywhere.

Mexican, Caribbean, and Filipino cuisines replacing heavy and fat-laden corporate chains.  Authentic food from these regions or in fusion form offer countless, lower-calorie meal ideas for those who want to eat right and not pack on the pounds.

Waste reduction (and waist reduction) becoming the norm.  The food industry is committed to reducing portion sizes and to composting and donating food that otherwise would be waste as everyone ponders sustainability, the environment, and the long-term health of one’s self and the planet.

As trends come and go, it will be fun to look back a year from now and see how many of these predictions came true and how many of them will continue to gain traction.  Most seem like common-sense practices to me.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Cranberries!

The last few times I’ve been in the grocery store, I’ve noticed that cranberries are still available. I’m tempted to buy a bag or two since cranberries can be such a healthy addition to the diet. Cranberries are very high in vitamin C. In fact, only one cup of raw cranberries contains about a quarter of the daily recommendation for vitamin C. That same cup of cranberries supplies about 5 grams of fiber which is about 20% of the recommended allowance for an adult. Additionally, cranberry juice can help prevent urinary tract infections. Cranberry juice makes urine more acidic which can prevent bacterial growth. With all those great qualities, I should plan to use more cranberries.

Fresh bagged cranberries are in season from the end of September until January. They keep in the refrigerator for about a month. But if you buy more than you can easily use in a month, consider freezing the berries. Sort through the berries, discarding any soft berries that you find. Wash and pack the berries into a freezer bag and freeze. It really doesn’t get much easier than this. Thawed berries will be softer than before the berries were frozen. They will be most appropriate for using in baked foods or in making a cranberry sauce or relish. Frozen cranberries do NOT have to be thawed before using.

I have only used cranberries for making cranberry sauce. Since that is not one of my favorite dishes, I plan to look for some different recipes. I know that many recipes combine cranberries with other sweeter fruits. Cranberry applesauce or cranberry apple pies are two foods that I think my family might enjoy. A cranberry orange relish also sounds like a treat we may enjoy.

Cranberry orange relish is easy to make. Combine one pound of ground or chopped cranberries and one ground or chopped orange (include the peel). Add one cup of sugar and mix well. Serve immediately or store it for up to 2 weeks in the fridge.

I can also put some cranberries into a tossed salad or our breakfast oatmeal.

Cranberry sauce is not my favorite food, but in case it is one of your favorites, here is a recipe for making it:

Use 2 cups of cranberries to one cup of sugar and one half cup of water. Put ingredients into a pan and bring to a boil. Boil gently for about 10 minutes. You will hear popping and see the skins of the berries crack. Skim off the foam and pour into a serving bowl. You can serve cranberry sauce hot or cold.

If you made a resolution to eat healthier this year, enjoy some cranberries today.

 

 

 

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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