Safe Seafood

We are starting to get a few days of beautiful weather here in Iowa and for me that means firing up the grill! I love to cook food on my grill and one of my favorites is salmon. I have heard from several friends that they are unsure about cooking fish at home and sometimes they are concerned about food safety and seafood. Today I have rounded up some top safety tips related to seafood to help you feel confident cooking fish at home.

  • Choose fish that has been kept at a safe temperature. In Iowa, that often means that fish is frozen when we buy it. Frozen fish is often very high quality and some fish in the fresh case at my store was previously frozen. Fish should smell mild. Flesh should be firm and eyes should be clear on whole fish. When buying frozen fish, choose packages that are free of frost.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling raw fish and keep raw fish separate from ready-to-eat foods. Clean surfaces and kitchen tools that touched raw fish with hot soapy water.
  • If you plan to eat your fish within two days, you can store it in the refrigerator. If it will be longer before you eat it, store it in the freezer. You can defrost fish in the microwave, but for the best results, thaw fish in the refrigerator overnight.
  • Cook fish to 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Cooked fish is safe at room temperature for up to two hours unless the temperature is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. On very hot days, refrigerate fish within one hour.
  • If you enjoy fishing, put fish you plan to eat in a cooler of ice immediately.

The Food and Drug Administration has a helpful website related to keeping seafood safe. I hope these tips help you feel confident cooking seafood at home. Next week Justine will share some information related to serving seafood to children. Please share your favorite seafood dishes on our social media!

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek is a State Nutrition Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She coordinates ISU’s programs which help families with low income make healthy choices with limited food budgets. Christine loves helping families learn to prepare healthy foods, have fun in the kitchen and save money. In her spare time, Christine enjoys cooking, entertaining and cheering on her favorite college football teams with her family and friends.

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Four Layer Supper

Our March recipe of the month is an old favorite here in Iowa. Four Layer Supper is a casserole that has been a staple recipe here for many years. The name says it all, this recipe is a casserole made up of four layers – potatoes, green beans, ground beef and onions, and cheese.

Over the years, we have learned from this recipe and made some updates. These updates make the recipe easier, more nutritious, and less expensive.

  • To save time, prick the potatoes with a fork and microwave them for 5 minutes before cutting them up. This will reduce the baking time by 15-20 minutes.
  • To add nutrition to this recipe, substitute sweet potatoes for all or some of the white potatoes. Sweet potatoes boost the fiber and vitamin A in this recipe.
  • To save money on this recipe, check your grocery ads and substitute a less expensive meat for the ground beef. This could even be leftover cooked meat from a previous meal.

Enjoy!

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover is a Registered Dietitian and mom who loves to cook for her family.

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Cheesy Chicken Casserole

Our February recipe of the month is Cheesy Chicken Casserole.  This recipe is an easy, tasty, and nutritious one dish meal.

Some of my favorite dinners to make are one dish meals.  All the ingredients come together in one pot, skillet, baking dish, or slow cooker.  Homemade one dish meals are my favorites because: 

  • They are often nutritious.  One dish meals typically contain three or four food groups (vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy).
  • They are often flexible allowing you to use different types of veggies, proteins or grain foods based on what you enjoy and what you have on hand.
  • They are easy to clean up.  One dish meals do not dirty a lot of dishes.
  • They are easy to prepare.
  • They are less expensive than boxed or frozen one dish meals.

Make Cheesy Chicken Casserole your own by changing up the protein and the vegetables.  You can adjust this recipe based on the foods you have on hand.

Enjoy!

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover is a Registered Dietitian and mom who loves to cook for her family.

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Vegetable Dip

Last week our blog was all about buying yogurt.  This week we have a tasty recipe using yogurt as the main ingredient – Vegetable Dip.  This recipe is very helpful at my house because my youngest son will not eat vegetables unless he has something to dip them in.  I like this recipe better than ranch dressing or store bought dip because the yogurt adds some nutrition to those vegetables that he would not get otherwise.

This recipe is so easy – all you have to do is combine plain yogurt with some seasonings.  Make sure that you let this dip rest in the refrigerator overnight. This rest time gives the flavors from the seasonings time to mingle together.  The hardest part of this recipe is slicing the vegetables to dip in it!

Find the full recipe here.

Enjoy!

 

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover is a Registered Dietitian and mom who loves to cook for her family.

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Which Yogurt Should I Buy?

For me, one of the most confusing parts of the grocery store is the yogurt area.  There are so many options! There are different types and flavors, different nutrition, and different prices.  To play it safe, I usually stick with what my family likes – citrus flavored yogurts for me, peach yogurt for my husband, drinkable yogurt for my oldest son, Greek yogurt for my daughter, and small containers of yogurt for my youngest son.  

 

But, I have wondered, what if I am sacrificing nutrition or paying too much by playing it safe?  Down below, I have created a table to help make decisions when buying yogurt. I used the information for yogurt that is available at a local grocery store where I shop.

 

Enjoy!

Yogurt Type

Container Size (oz) Cost Sugar (g) Calcium (%DV) Vitamin D (%DV)

Fruit flavored (original)

6

$0.46 19 20

20

Fruit flavored (light)

6 $0.46 10 15

20

Plain

5.3 $0.78 6 15

15

Greek fruit flavored (light)

5.3 $1.00 6 15

15

Tubes

1 tube

$0.28

(per tube)

8 10

10

Drinkable                 3.1

$0.39

(per bottle)

9

10

20

*Percent Daily Value or %DV is the amount of that nutrient for a 2000 calorie diet.

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover is a Registered Dietitian and mom who loves to cook for her family.

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Give Your Brain a Boost with Breakfast

Written by Amber Baughman
ISU Dietetic Intern

Mornings can be extremely busy, and sometimes it is hard to find time to fit in breakfast. I am not a morning person, so I need an easy and fast breakfast option every morning. Breakfast has been called the most important meal of the day and for good reason. Studies have shown that eating breakfast has many benefits, including feelings of well-being and better cognitive performance. Eating breakfast is associated with a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Although breakfast is important for adults, it is even more crucial that children have breakfast every day. Eating breakfast can help children and adolescents do better in school by improving memory, test grades, school attendance, and mood.

Sadly, breakfast consumption has been declining among youth in the U.S. However, with some planning ahead, breakfast can be ready in just a few minutes. One of my favorite breakfast items to make is Scrambled Egg Muffins. They are like a blank canvas, you can use whatever vegetables, meat, or cheese you have leftover in the fridge. They are also packed full of protein, so they will help you stay full longer! I make six of them on Sunday and then warm one or two up each morning for breakfast. Now you can sleep in those few extra minutes in the morning and still enjoy an easy, healthy breakfast!

Oatmeal Cookies

It is the time of year for sharing food, especially cookies.  Our December recipe of the month, Oatmeal Cookies, is perfect for sharing.  Take these delicious cookies to a party, family gathering, or cookie exchange.

You can also make these cookies into a gift.  Start with a quart sized glass jar. Pour in any optional ingredients you would like to include from the recipe such as dried cranberries, raisins, white chocolate chips, or coconut.  Then pour in the oatmeal. Top that with the brown sugar. Pour in the rest of the dry ingredients – the whole wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon. Close the lid tightly on the jar so there are no accidental spills.  Write out the instructions to the recipe on a card to give with the jar. Make sure to include amounts for the wet ingredients that are not included in the jar. You could even give out an individual serving size cup of applesauce with each jar – these are the perfect amount for this recipe.  Finally, share your jar as a gift! It is so fun to give and receive homemade gifts like this.

Enjoy!

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover is a Registered Dietitian and mom who loves to cook for her family.

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Homemade Dried Onion Soup Mix

Last week, I shared our homemade taco seasoning mix.  This week, I would like to share our homemade dried onion soup mix.  This dried onion soup mix is useful in seasoning soups, dips, and meats.  To make this mix, stir together dried minced onion, sodium free beef bouillon granules, onion powder, and sugar and store in an airtight container for up to six months.

This mix makes the equivalent of three packages of store bought dried onion soup mix.  This homemade mix is more expensive than the store bought version. Homemade costs $3.72 for the equivalent of three packages and the store bought is $0.72 for two packages.  However, the extra cost is more than balanced out by the savings in sodium. The homemade version has 15 mg of sodium in 1/3 cup (about the same as one store bought package) while the store bought version has 4,560 mg of sodium in one package, which is 570 mg of sodium per serving.   

The savings in sodium in this mix is important because reducing sodium consumption has health impacts.  Find more information about the connection between sodium and high blood pressure here and sodium for children here.

Try our homemade Dried Onion Soup Mix in our Slow Cooker Roast or any other recipe that calls for dried onion soup mix.

Enjoy!

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover is a Registered Dietitian and mom who loves to cook for her family.

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Slow Cooker Mexican Chicken Soup

Our November recipe of the month is Slow Cooker Mexican Chicken Soup.  It is perfect for a busy day. All the ingredients go into the slow cooker in the morning, cook on low for 8-10 hours, and you have a delicious soup ready to eat in the evening.

There are some wonderful things I love about this recipe.

  • It is easy to put together. There is no cutting up or chopping needed to get this recipe into the slow cooker.  The chicken just needs to be shredded right before serving this soup.
  • It uses dried beans. Dried beans are tasty, inexpensive, and nutritious.  They take a little longer to cook, so they are perfect for the slow cooker.  Fair warning, the dark color of the black beans changes the outer color of the chicken.
  • It freezes well. This recipe is great to measure out into single serving containers and freeze for lunches.  Or, you can eat half of the soup one night and freeze the other half of the soup for another night.
  • It is great for a party. This soup tastes delicious with different toppings – avocado, crushed tortilla chips, sliced jalapenos, plain Greek yogurt, shredded cheese.  You can serve the soup out of the slow cooker and let your guests add any toppings they would like.

Enjoy!

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover is a Registered Dietitian and mom who loves to cook for her family.

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Spice it up! – Part 2

Last week Jody gave us some helpful tips on using spices in cooking to give food lots of flavor without using too much salt. She also shared which spices we use most in our recipes and how to store them for maximum shelf life. You have probably guessed that we on the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. team really like to cook so experimenting with different flavors and spices is fun for us.

Even though I like to cook and cook at home most of the time, I can still get ahead of myself when it comes to spices. Ground spices (cumin, chili powder, curry powder, etc.) have their maximum flavor for 2-4 years after you open them. Dried herbs (basil, thyme, parsley, etc.) are best used within 1-3 years. Given how quickly some foods perish, this seems like a really long shelf life. Nevertheless, it is easy to have a spice in your cabinet for many years if you only use it on rare occasion. Here are some tips I use to keep my spices in check and avoid wasting money on spices I have to throw out.

  1. I buy spices in the smallest container I can. This saves space in my cabinet, reduces the risk of waste and allows me to try new spices without committing to buying a large container.
  2. I mark each container with the date that I open it, so I do not have to guess how long it has been sitting in my cabinet.
  3. Once a year I go through my spice cabinet and make my own all-purpose seasoning blends with the bits of spices I have left in my cabinet. I like to do this around New Year’s Day when I tend to have a lot of time around the house. I find that I go through the blends faster than individual spices. You can adjust the ratios of these blends based on what you have and what flavors you enjoy most. Some of my favorites include:
    • Taco Seasoning: This works well for any Tex Mex dish I am making. It is delicious in taco meat, beans or even soups with a similar flavor profile.
    • Dried Onion Soup Mix: I have several recipes I make that call for dried onion soup mix and I would rather use up the seasonings I already have than buy a packet at the store.
    • Italian Seasoning Blend: rosemary, thyme, parsley, red pepper flakes, garlic powder, oregano and onion powder. I use this on chicken, steak, vegetables, roasted potatoes and in pasta dishes. It is all of the same ingredients as store-bought Italian seasoning, but it allows me to use what I already have rather than buy another jar.
    • Grill Seasoning: garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, red pepper flakes and paprika. This is tasty on meats and veggies that I grill or roast.
  4.  If I find a recipe that calls for a spice I do not already have, I look for one or two other recipes that use it before I buy it. This way I know that I have multiple ideas for using that spice and I will make good use of it.

These are some tips that work for me…how do you keep your spice cabinet from getting out of control? Share with us in the comments or on our social media this week. You’ll hear more about the Taco Seasoning and Dried Onion Soup Mix from Justine next month.

Happy Cooking!

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek is a State Nutrition Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She coordinates ISU’s programs which help families with low income make healthy choices with limited food budgets. Christine loves helping families learn to prepare healthy foods, have fun in the kitchen and save money. In her spare time, Christine enjoys cooking, entertaining and cheering on her favorite college football teams with her family and friends.

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