Monthly Archives: July 2010

What kind of meat should I buy?

I really like to get questions from our Spend Smart blog readers. Here’s one about beef stew. Kay asks, “What cut of meat should you buy to make beef stew?” Good question. There are many ways to cook beef: broiling, pan-frying, stir-frying, grilling, roasting, braising and cooking in liquid. But some methods are better suited to some cuts than others. When you make stew you use both moisture and a long cooking time. This means you can use a less tender, usually less expensive cut from the front (chuck) or rear (round) of the animal—any cut from the chuck and round will work except top round. It is important to cook slowly with the lid on—whether in the oven, on top of the stove or in the crockpot.

You would think that it would cost more to buy stew meat than a chuck or round roast because the butcher has to take time to cut it in chunks. That’s not always the case. The butcher I spoke with today said that sometimes stew meat is just made from small chunks of more tender meat that are left after packaging other cuts. 

The Cattlemen’s Beef Board has created a list of lean beef cuts and preferred cooking methods, 29 Ways to Love Lean Beef.  The chart also compares the fat and calories in a 3-ounce serving.

-pointers from Peggy

Shout Out from

A while back Irene Shalom, Senior Editor of Fast Recipes web site, contacted me for an interview about the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. site. I thought her questions were interesting. She asked what I thought was the most common mistake consumers make that puts a strain on food budgets,  if it matters where you buy your food, how families can get back to eating at home, and what my favorite healthy meal ideas are. If you are interested you can read the article,  A Recipe for Healthier, Less Costly Meals, on the Fast Recipes site.

-pointers from Peggy

What should I buy as a spread?

Are you confused by what are considered “good” or healthy fats? Which is better for health—butter or margarine? Here’s one of the places that I really pay attention to the label and try to get a healthy choice.

First of all, I try to limit the amount of any type spread I add to my foods because fat contains more than twice the calories of either protein or carbohydrate.

Butter, as an animal product, contains both saturated fat and cholesterol which increase LDL (bad) and total blood cholesterol levels and raises your risk for coronary heart disease. I rarely buy butter and consider it a treat.

Margarine is made from vegetable oil. To get margarine solid enough to form a stick and less likely to spoil, they have to partially hydrogenate it. This process produces harmful trans fats which increase LDL (bad) cholesterol and lower HDL (good) cholesterol levels.

Now, we have the option of non-hydrogenated tub margarines which are trans fat free (manufacturers are allowed to call them trans fat free if they have less than .5 grams per serving). When I choose a tub margarine, I look for one that is trans fat free, that contains less than 2 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon, and which has a liquid vegetable oil or water as the first ingredient. In addition, I want one that is around 50 calories per tablespoon.

Most brands have several varieties to choose from. Here are some brands that have at least one product that meets those criteria: Blue Bonnet, Fleischmann’s; I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter; Promise; Smart Balance Light; Shedd’s Spread.

If you want a more detailed explanation, check out this article from the Cleveland Clinic Heart and Vascular Institute.

-pointers from Peggy

Featured Recipe: Jicama and Black Bean Dip

If you are looking for a great tasting, very healthy dip that can also be served as a salad, check out our Jicama and Black Bean Dip. This recipe is very easy to transport and keeps for several days in the refrigerator. Baked tortilla chips taste great with it.

One of the ingredients of this recipe might be a new one to your family. Jicama [HEE-kah-mah] is often referred to as the Mexican potato. Jicama is a large tuberous root. It has a thin brown skin that should be removed with a peeler or knife. The flesh is white, crisp, juicy and slightly sweet. Because the tuber requires a very long and warm growing season, most of the jicama available in the United States is imported from Mexico and South America. Jicama may be eaten raw in salads or as part of a vegetable platter; cooked, it works well in stir-frying, soups or stews.

Jicama and Black Bean Dip


  • 1 small jicama, peeled and chopped (about 1/2 cup)*
  • 1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup frozen corn, thawed
  • 1/2 medium green or red bell pepper, seeded and chopped (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1/3 cup light Itailan dressing
  • Salt and black pepper
  • Optional: 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro or 1 teaspoon dried cilantro
    *Jicama – Somthing new to try! This dip tastes fine without jicama, but it adds a nice crunch. This also can be served as a salad.


  1. In large bowl, combine jicama, beans, corn, pepper, onion, and dressing. If desired, add cilantro.
  2. Stir to coat all vegetables with dressing. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate several hours for flavors to blend.

A half cup of Jicama has only 25 calories, but supplies 22% of your need for Vitamin C and 3 grams of fiber.