Apricot Pops

apricot popsI remember when we were kids we made our own popsicles in the summer time using a flavored drink mix like Kool-Aid. We had an ice pop mold that we used. Since we were making them out of sugary water they were very hard (basically ice on a stick) and they didn’t provide many nutrients.

Our featured apricot pop recipe has only two ingredients, yogurt and fruit, so it is more nutritious than my childhood favorites. It tastes much better too!

You don’t even need a mold for this recipe. Just use the little paper cups sold for bathroom drink dispensers and plastic spoons. To get them out of the mold you can run the bottom of the pop under hot tap water and then peel off the paper.

You can make frozen pops with all sorts of fruit, juice and yogurt or Greek yogurt combinations. I have made these without a blender or food processor by mincing the apricots on a cutting board and then stirring the fruit and yogurt together.

You can also serve the pop mixture like ice cream. Just freeze the mixture in a covered container for 3-4 hours or until firm. Thaw 20 minutes before serving. Scoop into bowls and serve.  It’s very refreshing!

 

Apricot Pops

Serving Size: 1 pop (1/2 cup) | Serves: 8 | Cost Per Serving: $.49

Ingredients:

apricot pops label

  • 1 can (15 ounces) apricots, packed in juice or light syrup
  • 2 cartons (6 ounces each) of low fat, sugar free vanilla yogurt

Supplies:

  • 8 small paper cups
  • 8 plastic spoons (for handles)

Instructions:

  1. Drain apricots.
  2. Chop the apricots finely and mix with the yogurt or blend the fruit and yogurt until smooth with a blender or food processor.
  3. Pour mixture into 8 small paper cups and put in freezer. After half an hour (when they start to freeze), stand a wooden stick or plastic spoon in the pops.
  4. Freeze 3-4 hours or until pops are solid.
  5. Remove from cup to serve. Place bottom of cup under hot running water for 20 seconds. Peel off paper cup.

BEEF: How can we afford it for dinner?

Part 1: How To Save on Ground Beef

hamburger dinner meals beefIt’s almost grilling season but beef prices are high. In fact, they are at an all-time high and are expected to remain high for the next year or two. Why? The number of cattle in the US is low due to high grain prices and dry weather conditions. Cattlemen are increasing their herds but it takes a long time to increase the number of cattle (a calf born in the spring of 2014 would be bred in 2015, might have a calf by 2016 and that calf couldn’t come to market until 2017).

I love grilled hamburgers, but when prices get over $3.50 a pound I start looking for ways to save. Here are 7 ideas.

1. Buy on sale. Meat usually goes on sale for a week at a time. Stock up and freeze the extra. Keep track of the deals on ground beef and only buy when the sales match your “never-pay-more-than” price.

2. Buy in bulk. If a 10# package costs $.20 less per pound you are saving $2.00 by buying the larger package (If you will take the time to package it correctly when you get home and if you have the space in the freezer to keep it).

3. Mix fresh ground turkey, ground chicken or ground pork with ground beef in equal amounts.

4. Switch to ground pork burgers, ground turkey  or chicken burgers instead of beef for your patties.

5. Add TVP (textured vegetable protein) to ground beef. Just add the dry nuggets to the raw ground meat and mix together with your hands or a spoon. Use about one part meat to one part TVP; you can adjust these amounts according to your own preferences.textured vegetable protein

You can freeze the mixture just as you would plain hamburger or ground meat. Just place meal-sized batches of the meat mixture into freezer bags or containers and freeze. Or make patties and freeze. When you’re ready to use some, just thaw the bag like you would normally.

TVP is sold in most grocery stores in a 10-12 ounce bag.  A common brand is Bob’s Red Mill, but any brand is fine.  You may have to ask someone to help you find it the first time.

6. Add  ¼ -½ cup of crushed cereal, oatmeal, small bread cubes, grated vegetables such as potatoes or carrots, minced mushrooms, cooked rice or mashed beans to the ground beef before you make the patties.  The University of Illinois has a publication called Go Further Burgers which gives more details.

7. Instead of having hamburger patties, go with sloppy joes or maidrites.  Our Sloppy Joe recipe makes enough filling for 5 generous sandwiches.   You could even get 6 servings if needed.

On May 12th I’ll be back with more ways to stretch your meat dollar.

Fruit Salsa, the new rage!

fruit salsaAmericans love salsa. We eat more of it than ketchup these days. When I think of salsa I think of a tomato based sauce with hot peppers used as a dip. However, more and more salsas are using fruit as the main ingredient. With warm weather coming soon (thank goodness) many fruits will be in season so they will be abundant and lower in cost.

Common fruits which are used in salsa are: kiwi, strawberry, watermelon, mango, peaches, berries, pineapple, and cantaloupe.

Fruit salsa is a wonderful way to use ripe fruit. Ripe fruit has the best flavor and when you make salsa you can remove any bruises or blemishes. Most salsa recipes include a small amount of sweetener such as white or brown sugar, honey, fruit jelly or preserves, or syrups to draw out the juice in the fruit. Fruit salsas can also include onions, hot peppers and/or cilantro. Many of these recipes are designed to be served with meat, poultry, or fish.

We have an easy Fruit Salsa recipe and Baked Cinnamon Chips on the SpendSmart.EatSmart website, but fresh fruit salsa is a great opportunity to experiment and create your own recipe.  However, if you are thinking of canning your own salsa make sure you use a tested recipe so you know it is safe to eat.

Chocolate Surprise Cupcakes

Chocolate cupcake

Have you ever heard of a chocolate cupcake that provides 60% of the Vitamin A you needed in a day? Today is your lucky day!

My first experience with surprise cake was a layer cake made with spice cake mix and pumpkin pie spice. It tasted good. However, if it is not chocolate I usually don’t spend the calories on cake. We experimented a bit and came up with chocolate cupcakes made with pumpkin and apple juice. Believe it or not, there is no oil added at all.

I love this recipe because it is super simple, lower in calories than the usual cupcake, and more nutritious. I bought a pack of 6 juice boxes which I use just for this cake. It is super moist so I freeze what I am not going to use in the next 4 days .

 Chocolate Surprise Cupcakes

Serving Size: 1 cupcake | Serves: 24 | Cost Per Serving: .12

Ingredients: 

  • 1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin
  • 1  box (18 ounces) chocolate cake mix
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup (6 ounces) apple juice
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts *

*the walnuts are optional, but they are included in the nutrition facts

Chocolatecupcakelabel

Instructions: 

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease or spray muffin tins.
  2. Combine the pumpkin, cake mix, eggs, and apple juice in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Beat batter well. Fill muffin tins 2/3 full of batter. Sprinkle walnuts on top.
  4. Bake according to package directions for cupcakes (about 20 minutes).
  5. Cupcakes are done when a toothpick inserted into a cupcake comes out clean.
  6. Let cool on rack for 5-10 minutes. Remove from tin.

Options:

  • You can use a white or spice cake mix with 1 tablespoon of cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice added to batter instead of the chocolate cake.
  • 1/3 cup measure works well to scoop batter into muffin tin.
  • Instead of cupcakes you can bake the cake in 9 x 13-inch cake pan or 10 x 15-inch jelly roll pan. Use toothpick method in Step #5 to test for doneness.
  • Serve with low fat or fat free frozen whipped topping.

Are Steamer Bags Worth the Money?

frozen vegetablesI’m all for increasing the amount of vegetables in the diet. Vegetables provide nutrients we can’t get from other foods plus they are low in calories and high in fiber. I also think frozen vegetables are a great value. They are usually flash frozen right after they are picked so they may have more nutrients than fresh vegetables that have spent a long time traveling across the country. Sometimes they are less expensive than fresh vegetables, and they are already cleaned and prepared.

A few years ago manufacturers began selling frozen vegetables that can be microwaved in the bag they are sold in. Microwave steam bag vegetables are supposed to be a healthy solution for those who want to increase their vegetable intake without sacrificing convenience. These “steamers” have gotten so popular that it is hard to find frozen bags of vegetables that are not “steamers”.

I just don’t get why these are so popular!

1)  They are more expensive.  An ounce of frozen mixed vegetables in the steamer bags in central Iowa cost between  $.10 to $.14 an ounce. While the same food in plain plastic bag cost $.08-.09 ounce.  (Sometimes the bags cost the same, but the “steamer” bags had only ¾ as much as the plain bags).

2) I can’t see that they save much time or save washing dishes. 

a. The advantage of frozen bags of vegetables has always been that you could take out just what you need and put the rest back in the freezer. With “steamer” bags you have to cook the whole bag to get the steamer effect.  I think this leads to wasted leftover vegetables.
b. Unless you serve the vegetables in the plastic bag you still have to get a container dirty.

I cook frozen vegetables without the aid of this specialized packaging. All it takes is a microwave safe serving bowl and some ordinary plastic wrap or a lidded microwave-safe container. I put about a cup of vegetables per person in the bowl, add about 1 tablespoon of water, cover and cook on high 2-5 minutes, depending on how much is in the bowl. If you’re unsure how much time is needed, start at two minutes. Keep cooking the vegetables for an additional one minute at a time until hot.

Before you jump on the steaming bag trend, make sure you compare the price per ounce and think about whether it will really save you time.

 

Pan Fried Tilapia with Orange Sauce

pan fried tilapia

Growing up, we pretty much stuck to breaded fish sticks and squares and then for special occasions – shrimp cocktail. Once in a while my mom bought frozen fish and dipped it in egg and then cornmeal and fried it. As an adult, knowing fish was good for me (great protein plus low in calories and fat), I used to buy those frozen rectangles of raw fish, but prying frozen fillets apart was not fun.

Now I buy bags of individually frozen tilapia fillets. They come in packs (usually 2 or 3 pounds) that cost $2-3 per pound. I love that I can just pull out the number of fillets I need and defrost them.

This month’s featured recipe, Pan Fried Tilapia with Orange Sauce is delicious, easy and fast! You’ll want to have the table set and the rest of your meal ready to go when you start this. I usually serve it with a salad and frozen peas or broccoli. Sometimes I add brown rice.

Other kinds of fish work in this recipe also. Try it with domestic mahi-mahi, halibut or swai which is a white-flesh fish with a mild taste and light flaky texture. Swai is often less expensive than other kinds of fish.

Pan Fried Tilapia with Orange Sauce

Serving Size: 1 fillet of fish (about 3 ounces) | Serves: 4 | Cost Per Serving: $1.44

pan fried tilapia label

Ingredients: 

  • 4 small frozen tilapia fillets (about 1 pound total)
  • 3 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried marjoram or Italian seasoning
  • 1 orange

Instructions: 

  1. Defrost and pat dry tilapia with paper towel.
  2. Put flour, garlic powder, pepper, and salt in a plastic bag. Add fillets one at a time and shake to coat.
  3. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat until hot.
  4. Add fillets to skillet and fry until golden brown on one side (about 2 minutes). Turn fish over, sprinkle with marjoram or Italian seasoning, and finish browning (heat fish to at least 165°F).
  5. Heat orange for 10 seconds in microwave. Cut in half. Squeeze half the juice and pulp from the orange on the fish. Use the other half for garnish.
  6. Place fish on a platter. Scrape the pan juices on top of the fish to serve.

Edamame?

edamameWhat is it? Have you tried it? What do you think of it?

These are some of the questions I got when I first made edamame for my family. I answered their questions, hoping that they would like this new food. Edamame is green soybeans – it is harvested before the beans harden. I have tried it and I do like it.  It turns out that my family likes it too… a lot.

Edamame is a vegetable that is typically found in the frozen foods section at grocery stores around here. I recently bought two 12 ounce bags for $5 (or $2.50 each). This is a little more than I usually spend on frozen vegetables, but there are some added nutritional benefits to eating edamame along with other vegetables. It is a good source of protein, fiber, some B vitamins, iron, and magnesium. This makes it a good partner for vegetables that are good sources of vitamin C, such as peppers, and vitamin A, such as carrots or winter squash.

Edamame can be used in many ways. I have served it as a side dish with a little salt and pepper. It can also be added to any dish you add frozen vegetables to such as soups, stir-fries, or casseroles. I have added it to my children’s favorite, tuna and noodles.  A small amount (1/2 to 1 cup) of thawed edamame could be added to any of these SpendSmart.EatSmart recipes to boost the nutrition:

Try some edamame and let us know what you think of it.

Are Valentine’s Day and National Heart Month Related?

I wonder if it is coincidence that Valentine’s Day, National Heart Month, and National Wear Red Day are all in February. Probably not, but it would be great if the hype around Valentine’s Day reminded us to eat heart healthy. What is a better way to show your love than preparing healthy, delicious food for your family and friends? Here are a few facts:

  • Heart disease is still the leading cause of death in the US even though we tend to hear more about cancer.
  • We can’t change some of the risks factors for heart disease such a family history, gender, and age. However, many of the risk factors for heart disease are related to diet and physical activity which we can influence, they include: cholesterol level, high blood pressure, diabetes, overweight, smoking and lack of physical activity.

The American Heart Association has a list of Tips for Heart-Healthy Grocery Shopping that provides a good start for anyone one who wants to improve the quality of their diet. Their list highlights the types of fats and oils to choose and avoid as well as how to avoid excess sodium in the diet.

Perhaps you have already made changes in your diet. If you would like to check out your knowledge about sodium, fats and nutrition take their three nutrition quizzes:

Fats and Sodium Explorer- What are your daily calorie needs? Recommended range for total fats, limits for the “bad” fats:  saturated and trans fats.

Test Your Sodium Smarts-Test your sodium smarts by answering 10 questions about which food products are higher in sodium.

Test Your Fats IQ Do you know your fats by heart? Test just how knowledgeable you are.

8 Ways For Families To Reduce Food Waste.

woman looking in cupboard SmallLast June the USDA and EPA launched the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, calling on everyone in the food chain to join the effort to reduce, recover, and recycle food waste.

Food waste in the United States is estimated at 30 to 40 percent of the food supply.  Some of this food could be going to hungry people rather than filling up landfills and creating greenhouse gases.

According to the Iowa Food Waste Reduction Project, almost 14% of all municipally-landfilled waste is food waste making it the #1 most prevalent disposed material.

What can individuals do?  Here is a list of ways to reduce wasted food from USDA. Visit the food waste reduction website for more information.

  1. Shop your refrigerator first!  Cook or eat what you already have at home before buying more.
  2. Plan your menu before you go shopping and buy only those things on your menu.
  3. Buy only what you realistically need and will use. Buying in bulk only saves money if you are able to use the food before it spoils.
  4. Nutritious, safe, and untouched food can be donated to food banks to help those in need.
  5. At restaurants, order only what you can finish by asking about portion sizes and be aware of side dishes included with entrees. Take home the leftovers and keep them for your next meal.
  6. Compost food scraps rather than throwing them away.
  7. Don’t automatically throw out food that has been in the freezer longer than “recommended”. Food poisoning bacteria does not grow in the freezer, so no matter how long a food is frozen, it is safe to eat. Foods that have been in the freezer for months may be dry, or may not taste as good, but they will be safe to eat. So if you find a package of ground beef that has been in the freezer more than a few months, don’t throw it out. Use it to make chili or tacos. The seasonings and additional ingredients can make up for loss of flavor.
  8. Likewise, canned goods will last for years, as long as the can itself is in good condition (no rust, dents, or swelling). Packaged foods (cereal, pasta, cookies) will be safe past the ‘best by’ date, although they may eventually become stale or develop an off flavor. If food appears moldy or discolored, do not eat it.

For more information on what the dates on packages mean check out our Spend Smart Eat Smart web page.

Super Bowl Tostada Party

tostadaWhether you are a Broncos fan, Seahawks fan or just watch the Super Bowl for the commercials, you might be pondering what to serve while the big game is on. Consider our Make Your Own Tostadas. They are super economical (about .40 each) and easy. If you prepare the toppings and bake the tostadas the day before or during the pregame you won’t have to be in the kitchen while everyone else is watching the game.

For special occasions like this I like to set up a buffet table so everyone can help themselves. In addition to the tostadas, I would add a big platter of fruit and tray of brownies/cookies. To keep the refried beans warm I would put them in a slow cooker on low. If they get dry, add a little water or tomato juice and stir.

Make Your Own Tostadas

 

Serving Size: 1 tostada Serves: 10 Cost Per Serving: $.36

Ingredients: tostada label

  • 10 corn tortillas (6-inch)
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 can (16 ounces) fat free refried beans

Optional Toppings:

  • 1/2 cup onion, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
  • Guacamole
  • Nonfat sour cream
  • 1 cup tomato, chopped
  • 1/2 cup low fat cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 3 cups lettuce, shredded

Instructions: 

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Place tortillas in a single layer on baking sheets. Lightly spray with cooking spray. Bake for 5-7 minutes, flip over, and bake 5-7 minutes more until crisp.
  3. Put refried beans in microwave safe bowl and heat in microwave while tortillas bake. Stir beans so they heat evenly.
  4. Spread a thin layer of hot beans on baked tortillas.
  5. Serve with your choice of toppings.

Options Cut tortillas into snack size servings before baking. Use as dippers.

Tips: 

  • Wear plastic gloves to handle hot peppers. No gloves? Wash hands with soap and water before touching your face, your cooking utensils, or another person.
  • Save extra baked tortillas in an airtight container.

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