Knives 101

Chef mincing bell peppers with knifeA sharp kitchen knife is a good investment. Good knives make cooking easier and most importantly, sharp knives are safer than dull ones. A sharp knife is going to do what you expect it to do. It will slide smoothly through foods and not slip or get caught. When knives slip, that’s when cuts tend to happen.

You do not have to spend a lot of money to get a sharp knife. If you purchase a knife at a discount store for five or ten dollars it will likely stay sharp for six months to a year. At this price point, you would likely replace the knife when it got dull. If you are looking to spend a little more money for a heavier duty knife in the fifteen to thirty dollar range, you can also purchase a knife sharpener for around $20. With regular sharpening every few months, you can keep a knife in good condition for many years.

Sharpness isn’t the only concern when dealing with knives. There are a few safety principles that every cook should know to stay safe around knives.

S – Securely hold your knife. Grip the top of the blade firmly between your thumb and forefinger. Cut things on a flat surface like a cutting board. Do not cut things while you hold them in your hand.

A – Anchor all cutting boards to ensure they don’t slip. If your cutting board easily slides on the counter, put a damp cloth underneath it, this will help it grip.

F – Fingertips should be curled back. Hold foods with fingertips tucked under away from the knife.

E – Eyes on the knife! When using a knife, try to avoid distractions and keep your eyes on what you’re doing. It is also a good idea to keep knives where they are clearly visible, for example, do not put a knife in a sink full of dirty dishes where someone may not know it is there.

T – Take your time. Don’t rush with a knife.

Y – Yield to falling knives. If a knife slips out of your hand or falls from the counter, let it drop. Do not attempt to catch it. This is why it is a good idea to wear closed toe shoes in the kitchen.

There is no reason to fear knives or cooking. Knife safety is as simple as following a few basic rules.

Credit: Utah State University Extension Tips for Teaching Knife Skills

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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Summer Grilling on a Budget

woman grilling outside meals cookingOur weather in Iowa has really warmed up lately and I’ve been firing up the grill a couple of times each week. The outdoor grill is a great tool for eating healthy and if you plan well, you can also save time and money. Here are a couple of tips for using your grill the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. way!

  1. Make the most of a hot grill. Every time you heat up your grill, you’re using fuel, either charcoal or propane. Make the most of that fuel by filling the grill, not just cooking one or two things. I like to fill one side of my grill with meat like chicken, hamburgers or pork chops. I put veggies on the other side. Zucchini (cut in half the long way), asparagus, sliced onions and large pieces of pepper grill very well. I pack up any leftovers for future meals. If I won’t get to them within 4 days, I freeze them in freezer bags. If I know I have tasty grilled meals in my fridge or freezer, I am far less likely to grab take out on the way home from work.
  1. Stretch meat by mixing with other foods. Grilling doesn’t have to be all about meat. The most expensive ingredient in a lot of meals is the meat. You can cut down on this cost by mixing the meat with whole grains like brown rice and additional protein sources like black beans. I love to season grilled chicken with spices like chili powder and cumin and then mix them with brown rice, black beans, grilled peppers and onions. I sprinkle a little hot sauce and shredded cheese on top and I’ve got a delicious, healthy meal!

I hope these tips will help you make your grill work a little harder for you!

Happy grilling!

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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Easy Quick Pad Thai

PadThai_closeup smallIn August I eat salads, grill, or do quick stove-top meals. Quick Pad Thai is one of those stove-top all-in-one meals I usually serve in a bowl. We modeled it after the street food in Thailand but with ingredients you can easily find in the Midwest. Ours uses whole wheat spaghetti but you could use the more traditional rice noodles. When I make this in the summer I use whatever vegetables are ready in the garden and in the winter I use frozen vegetables. Bright colored veggies such as red pepper, broccoli, and snap peas look great.

I use either chunky or smooth peanut butter, whatever I have open and I make light soy sauce by mixing equal parts water and regular soy sauce.

One caution, after you cut up the chicken make sure you wash the cutting board knife and your hands with hot water and soap so you don’t transfer bacteria to the other ingredients.

Quick Pad Thai

Serving Size: 1 1/4 cups | Serves: 6 | Cost Per Serving: $1.06

Ingredients: Quick Pad Thai label

  • 6 ounces whole wheat thin spaghetti
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • 24 ounces frozen vegetable mix or chopped fresh veggies
  • 3 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 pound boneless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/3 cup chopped peanuts

Instructions: 

  1. Cook spaghetti according to package directions. Drain in colander and toss with 1 tablespoon oil.
  2. Defrost vegetables in microwave for 5 minutes and drain well (as spaghetti cooks).
  3. Combine soy sauce, water, peanut butter, and sugar in a small bowl. Stir until smooth and set aside.
  4. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in large skillet over medium high heat. Add chicken pieces and cook and stir until no longer pink (heat chicken to at least 165°F).
  5. Crack eggs into a small bowl and beat. Add to pan with chicken and scramble until firm. Add the vegetables and spaghetti to the pan with the chicken mixture. Stir to heat through.
  6. Add the soy sauce mixture to the pan and stir to coat veggies and spaghetti.
  7. Place in serving bowl and sprinkle peanuts on top.

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.

Recipe Feature: Vegetable Soup with Kale and Lentils

VegSoupKaleLentilsI never heard of either kale or lentils when I was growing up. Recently, I’ve started enjoying both. Kale is being promoted as one of our most powerful vegetables. It is low in calories, but rich in vitamins C and K, fiber, and calcium. Lentils are very high in protein and they contain fiber, folate, vitamins and minerals. They come in a range of colors including yellow, red, green, brown and black. Lentils are easy for me, because they cook much faster than other dry beans.

When choosing kale at the grocery store, look for green leaves that are moist and crisp. If the leaves are yellow or brown, the kale is not fresh. Kale develops a stronger flavor the longer it is stored, so plan to use it within a day or two of purchase. Kale can be wrapped in a damp paper towel and stored in a plastic bag in the crisper section of your refrigerator. You can also store it in the fridge in a tall glass with some water (stems pointing down) like a flower bouquet to keep it fresh for a couple of days.

Our featured recipe this month includes both kale and lentils. It’s a quick and easy soup that is made using only one pan. You can have it on the table in less than 45 min. I serve it with bread, fruit and milk or cheese.

If you can’t find yellow or brown lentils other colors could be substituted. If kale is not available, or is too expensive you could use other greens in this soup such as collard greens or spinach.

Vegetable Soup with Kale and Lentils

Serving Size: 1 1/2 cups | Serves: 6VegSoupKaleLentils-Label
Ingredients: 
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1 medium carrot, sliced 1/8 inch thick
  • 2 teaspoons garlic, peeled and minced (3-4 cloves), or 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup dry yellow or brown lentils
  • 1 can (14.5 ounces) reduced sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil or Italian seasoning
  • 1 can (14.5 ounces) no sodium added diced tomatoes or 2 chopped tomatoes
  • 1 bunch kale (about 7 ounces)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Instructions: 
  1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat.
  2. Add onions, carrots, and garlic. Cook 5 minutes.
  3. Add water to veggies in pot. Heat to boiling.
  4. Rinse lentils in colander with water. Add lentils to pot and simmer for 20 minutes. Do not drain.
  5. Add chicken broth, dried basil or Italian seasoning, and tomatoes. Cover and cook for 5-10 minutes.
  6. Rinse kale leaves, cut out the main stems and discard. Cut leaves into 1-inch pieces.
  7. Stir kale, salt, and pepper into lentil mixture. Return to boiling. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 3 minutes.
Tips: 
  • Skip soaking the lentils first for this recipe. It is not needed.
  • Use kitchen scissors instead of a knife to cut the kale.
  • Make kale chips from extra leaves. Drizzle a little oil on clean, dry leaves. Spread leaves on a cookie sheet. Bake 12-20 minutes at 350 degrees F. Leaves should be thin and crackly but not brown. Remove from oven and sprinkle with salt.

Peggy Signature

Holiday Breakfast – Baked Oatmeal

4.1.1I look forward to the traditions associated with holidays because I find comfort in doing the same things each year. Many of our family traditions include food. We work together in the kitchen to create foods we often eat only once each year. When visiting my husband’s grandparents, we were introduced to baked oatmeal and we fell in love. We decided that it needed to become part of our family traditions. Baked oatmeal is a great breakfast any day, but we think it will make a perfect holiday breakfast for us this year and in future years. Here is why I am choosing baked oatmeal this holiday season:

  • It can be put together the night before. All I will have to do in the morning is put it in the oven, so I will not miss out on any family time.
  • Each person can make their bowl of baked oatmeal special with add-ins like sliced bananas, nuts, dried fruit, milk and cinnamon sugar.
  • It is a healthy choice. Baked oatmeal is made with fruit, oats (a whole grain), and non-fat milk.
  • It is filling. The oats fill me up so I am less likely to get hungry for the high fat and sugar snacks that are common during the holidays.
  • I can buy a lot of oats for very little money. Besides using them in this recipe, I can use them in granola, fruit pizza, baked apples, instant oatmeal packets, and oatmeal bars.

I hope that you try baked oatmeal sometime soon and fall in love with it just like we did.

Ingredients:

  • 4 ½ cups water
  • 3 cups oats (quick cooking or old fashioned)
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ cup non-fat milk
  • 2 medium apples, chopped
  • ½ cup dried fruit (raisins, cranberries, cherries)

Instructions:

  1. In a saucepan, bring water to a boil.  Add oats and boil for one minute.  Remove from heat and let stand five minutes.
  2. In a mixing bowl, beat together eggs, brown sugar, vegetable oil, baking powder, ground cinnamon, and milk with a fork.
  3. Stir in oatmeal, apples, and dried fruit.
  4. Lightly coat a 13x9x2-inch baking pan with cooking spray and pour oatmeal mixture into the pan.  Cook immediately or cover and store in the refrigerator overnight.
  5. To cook, preheat oven to 350°F then bake for 50-60 minutes until the center is set and the top is lightly browned.

Tip:

  • Serve with a variety of toppings including sliced bananas, dried fruit, non-fat milk, chopped walnuts, sliced almonds, and cinnamon sugar.
  • This recipe makes a lot, so if you do not have a large crowd to feed, plan on eating this for breakfast or snacks for a couple of days.

-Justine

Meals In 30 Minutes Featuring Sweet and Sour Rice

SweetSourRice RGBThe month between Thanksgiving and Christmas is one of the busiest in the year. I like to make “all in one meals” on the stove that are quick and healthy. The recipes I look for include three or four food groups all in one dish. Most of the time I have enough left over to take for lunch the next day. This saves me money and time!

Our featured recipe this month, Sweet and Sour Rice, allows you to use one pan to cook the chicken, vegetables and sauce. The sweet and sour sauce is super easy and economical. I hate buying a sauce, using it once and then watching it spoil in the fridge. My family liked this sauce better than bottled!

The SpendSmartEatSmart web site has many more recipes that are quick and only use a pan or two so clean up is quick.

Fiesta Skillet Dinner (another quick meal) is featured in our UKnow video series. Other quick meals on our website include – Ham & Brown Rice and Tasty Taco Salad.

Sweet and Sour Rice

 

Serving Size: 2/3 cup rice and 1 1/4 cup topping Serves: Cost Per Serving: $1.26

Ingredients: sweetandsour label

  • 16 ounces chicken (skinless, boneless)
  • 1 bag (16-ounce) frozen stir-fry veggies
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 2 cups instant uncooked brown rice
  • 1/4 cup sweet and sour sauce (make your own or use prepared sauce)*
  • 1 can (8-ounce) pineapple chunks with juice

Sauce:

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon ketchup

Instructions: 

  1. Cut chicken into 3/4 inch pieces. Wash your hands thoroughly.
  2. Remove stir-fry veggies from freezer to thaw.
  3. Heat oil in skillet over medium heat. When oil is hot, add chicken and cook until done. Remove chicken to a bowl and set aside. Set frying pan aside.
  4. Heat water for rice to boiling. Add rice. Let rice cook according to the package directions.
  5. Return skillet (used to cook chicken) to the stove. Add sauce ingredients. Cook over medium high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, or add the prepared sweet and sour sauce.
  6. Stir in the pineapple (un-drained), vegetables, and chicken. Reduce heat to medium low. Cook about 5 minutes.
  7. Serve chicken and veggie mixture on top of the rice.

Substitution:

You can substitute 2 cups cooked chicken in this recipe. Just add it at step six. Cook for about 5 minutes to heat it through.

Peggy Signature

Involve (and teach) Others to Prepare Holiday Meals

blog 25thWhen you are preparing Thanksgiving dinner this year consider asking other family members to work alongside you.  This way, you will have some great family time, they get the satisfaction of learning how to make the meal, they learn skills which can save them money in the future and you get help.  It’s a win-win situation.

I forget why we didn’t go to a relative’s house the first time I attempted a Thanksgiving meal on my own, but I DO remember some of the things that went wrong:

  • I didn’t allow enough time for the turkey to thaw,
  • I wasn’t sure when the turkey was done,
  • I didn’t take the pouch with the turkey neck, gizzards out so it was in there when we started carving, and
  • The rolls didn’t get done until after the meal.

I heard a great story about the Pocahontas County, IA 4-H program. Last year three Master Food Volunteers taught ten 4-Hers and their parents how to make a Thanksgiving meal. They used our $30 serves 8 a healthy Holiday Dinner as a guide. The participants learned hand washing, use of a meat thermometer, proper measurement of dry and wet ingredients, oven safety, and the science behind cooking meat to proper internal temperature.

The youth said that as a result of the program they will use a meat thermometer more often, put the meat thermometer in the leg of the turkey, help cook their families’ thanksgiving meal, wash hands more often, pay more attention when measuring, and do more cooking.

Those kids have a great start at cooking healthy foods so they don’t have to pay for frozen or box meals or spend extra to eat out.  Way to go Pocahontas County 4-H!

Peggy Signature

Sweet Potato Fries

sweet potato RGBI love sweet potato fries. I like the flavor plus I’m getting great fiber and Vitamin A. They are one of those red/orange vegetables we are supposed to eat 5-6 cups of each week. Sweet potatoes cost more than white potatoes, but they are in-season in fall/winter so expect the best prices right now.

Making sweet potato fries can be tricky. Even restaurants that deep fry them have a hard time getting them crispy and not mushy in the middle. Our recipe doesn’t add a lot of fat by frying them and they have a nice texture, just don’t expect that they will be super crispy and brown.

One of the keys for making this recipe successfully is making sure the potato is sliced evenly.  Because raw potatoes are so hard, we suggest that you cut the potatoes lengthwise and then put the cut side down on the cutting board and slice them crosswise. This will give you a flat, stable surface when you’re cutting.

Sometimes my store sells yams and sometimes sweet potatoes. I use them both in recipes like this, but if you are curious about the difference this article is helpful. What’s the difference between sweet potatoes and yams?

 

Sweet Potato Fries

Serving Size:  about 1/2 c fries and 1 T dip | Servings: 6sweet potato label

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes (about 4 medium potatoes)
  • 1 T  vegetable oil
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • DIP:
    • 1/4 c light mayo
    • 1 T ketchup
    • 1/8 to 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, chili powder,  or paprika

Instructions

  1. Rinse potatoes under running water. Peel if desired or just scrub potatoes well.
  2. Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise.
  3. Lay each potato half flat and cut into half-moon shapes.
  4. Combine potatoes, oil, and salt in a bowl. Stir so potatoes are covered with oil.
  5. Grease cookie sheet with cooking spray or vegetable oil and lay potatoes in a single layer.
  6. Bake at 425 degrees F for about 30 minutes, turning after 15 minutes.
  7. While potatoes are baking, mix the dip ingredients.
  8. Serve immediately.

 

 

Peggy Signature

It’s Worth a Little Mess

kids in kitchenMy 3 ½ year old son Parker loves to help me in the kitchen. When he realizes I’m cooking, he quickly goes and gets his stool so he can stand and help me. Even though cooking takes longer, and we make more messes, I enjoy spending time with him in the kitchen. He is a picky eater, so when he helps me prepare different foods, he is more likely to try them.

Some tasks that Parker likes to help me with are pouring ingredients in the bowl, stirring ingredients, breaking eggs, putting toppings on homemade pizza, and scooping batter into muffin tins. He likes to have me read him the recipe so we also work on following directions and counting.

There are numerous benefits to having children help in the kitchen. As I mentioned before, it exposes them to new foods and helps them become more willing eaters. Helping in the kitchen also improves children’s fine motor skills, increases their confidence, and gives them an opportunity to work on learning colors, shapes, and counting.

Our new video “How to Include Children in the Kitchen”  has helpful information on how to get children involved in the kitchen, from helping cook to helping unload the dishwasher. Check it out to see how much fun we had cooking with kids along with some tips to get your kids excited about cooking.

Another helpful resource, full of recipes that your children can help you make, is ‘Let’s Cook with Kids’ created by the Northeast Valley Health Corporation WIC Program in California.

How do your children like to help you in the kitchen?

Jodi Signature

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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