Gifts from the Kitchen

With the holidays quickly approaching I’ve been making a list of who I need gifts for. I have to admit, some years I’m the person who is getting a gift right before I need it. However, this year I’m planning ahead because I’m excited to give my family and friends our Healthy and Homemade cookbook. On my dad’s side of the family we do a gift exchange among the adults. This year, I plan to take the Healthy and Homemade cookbook and tuck a grocery store gift card inside for the gift exchange.

I also like to give gifts of food! For my neighbors I like to bake breads to share with them.  This year I’m planning to make them our Banana Oatmeal Bread or our No Knead Whole Wheat Bread. Prepared foods that can be frozen also make great gifts, especially for those who don’t like to cook or aren’t able to. They can heat up the food and have a homemade dish in no time. Some good recipes for this are Make Ahead Breakfast Burritos or Skillet Lasagna.

Share the gift of good food that’s good for you!

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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Kitchen Gifts silly and wasteful or basic and everlasting

I am amazed at the number of dumb (silly) small appliances that are on the market today: cotton candy maker, chocolate fountain, cake pop/donut hole baker, mini pie baker, snow cone maker. And that’s just for the sweets. You also can have a hot dog roller, pretzel maker, corn dog maker, pigs in the blanket maker, and more. Most of them cost around $20 except for the soda maker and a jam and jelly maker that cost around $100! Why do I think they are dumb (silly)? An appliance that cooks just one food is a silly use of money and a waste of space in the kitchen.  It will end up in the landfill in a year or two.

If you are thinking about giving kitchenware this holiday or helping someone set up a home, consider buying the best basic cooking tools you can afford; they will last a lifetime.

More Expensive

Knives –The three I use the most are a paring knife for peeling and trimming, a chef knife for chopping, and a knife with a serrated edge for cutting bread and tomatoes.

Pans –The three pans I use all the time are a medium (3 quart) sauce pan with a lid for cooking sauces, vegetables, rice, etc; a large skillet with a lid (12 inches or more) for stir frying, browning, sandwiches; and a stock pot (10 quarts) for pasta and soups.

Less Expensive

Measuring Cups and Spoons – Correct measuring tools are especially important for baking, but I use them when cooking also. Look for sets to measure dry ingredients that include four measuring cups: ¼ cup, 1/3 cup, ½ cup and 1 cup measures. Add measuring spoon sets including ¼, teaspoon, ½ teaspoon, 1 teaspoon and 1 tablespoon. Complete this gift with a clear cup that has measuring marks on the side and a spout to pour liquids.

Cutting boards – I like the plastic boards because they are inexpensive, flexible, easy to store, and dishwasher safe. I use several boards at once so I don’t mix vegetables and raw meat on the same board. Some people designate one board for meat and poultry, another for vegetables and fruits, and another for breads.
Peeler – I use this all the time for potatoes, carrots, apples, kiwi, and mangos because I don’t trim off as much of the food as when I use a knife.
Wooden spoons – These are great for stirring without scratching your pans, and they don’t conduct heat so you can leave them in the pot if you like.
Rubber spatulas – I have two sizes. The large one I use to stir and fold batter and to scrape the inside of bowls. The small on I use to scrape small cans like tomato paste or peanut butter.
Whisks – These are great for making sauces and beating eggs or thin batters. Even though a cook can get by with a fork, but the whisk works better and is easier to grasp.
Colander/strainer – This is a handy tool for draining pasta, vegetables, berries and more.
Instant read thermometer – Very important for knowing when meat and poultry are done and for reheating food.
Mixing bowls – A basic set is one large and one small.
Can opener – Give a basic turn-the-crank model that can be cleaned when dirty and stored in a drawer.
If you are gifting someone who loves to bake, you might consider:
• 9 x 13 pan  (used for cakes, bars, casseroles)
• Baking sheet (used for cookies and rolls)
• Loaf pan, pie pan, or muffin pan
• Cooling rack
Not necessary, but nice:  garlic press, weight scale, grater

What is Cheaper: Turkey or Ham?

Thanksgiving is about 10 days away. Have you started to plan your dinner? The biggest expense of the meal will probably be the ham or turkey (or both) that you buy. The grocery ads are full of deals, like buy a ham and get a turkey free. Or buy $50 in groceries and get a $5 off coupon for your turkey. I was curious, so I stopped by 5 different stores to check out prices. I went to Hy-Vee, Fareway, Aldi, Dahls, and Wal-Mart.

Here are the costs I found. Whole turkey prices range from $.88 to $1.19 a pound. Boneless, spiral cut hams are about $3.50 a pound. Bone-in ham varies from $1.48 to 1.98 a pound. Both ham and turkey are priced to lure you to the store.

Number of 3 ounce servings per pound Cost per pound Cost per serving
Turkey 2 $ 0.99 $ 0.50
Ham, boneless 4 $ 3.50 $ 0.88
Ham, bone-in 3.5 $ 1.80 $ 0.51

The simple answer is turkey and the bone-in ham cost about the same with boneless ham costing significantly more. But, as usual, every situation is different. Below are some comments/questions with some of my thoughts.

Doesn’t matter what it costs. I want to serve both ham and turkey and make sure we have enough. Ok, but when you are buying, remember you can cut back on the amount you buy because people will eat some, but not a whole serving of each.

Is the buy a ham, get a free turkey a good deal? That deal was to buy about 7 pounds of boneless ham at $3.50 ($24.50 total) and get a 12 pound turkey free. You would get about 28 3 oz. servings of ham and 24 3 ounce servings of turkey. So you would get 40 servings for $24.50 at .61/serving. If you want a boneless ham it is a good deal. But it would be cheaper to by the bone-in ham and turkey separately.

We are saving for Christmas gifts so I don’t want to spend a lot. I would get either a boneless ham or the turkey. If you have time, go for the turkey and make soup from the turkey bone (that way you can stretch the cost over several meals). A couple of years ago we developed a Healthy Holiday Dinner Menu with Recipes.

I am exhausted after our Thanksgiving meal. Maybe we should just go out to eat. Last year in the blogI shared my Top 5 tips to save time, money, stress and calories for Thanksgiving dinner. Maybe you will find an idea that works for you.

My turkey is always dry so I think I’ll have ham this year. Are you cooking the turkey too long? Try using a meat thermometer (sometimes the pop-up timers fail). Put the thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh because the dark meat of the turkey thigh takes longer to cook than any other part. When the thermometer is at 165 degrees, it is done.

My grandpa says he can’t eat ham so we will have turkey. From a health standpoint both ham and turkey are great sources of protein, but turkey provides significant less fat if you skip the skin. Ham also has more than 10 times the sodium and may contain nitrates.

Have a Great Holiday.

Holiday Gift Ideas

Check Out a Sneak Peek Inside

Need a holiday gift or an addition to a personal cookbook collection? We have a new cookbook, Healthy & Homemade, that is a great resource for any family.  Individual copies sell for $5 at the ISU Extension online store.

The cookbook  is a collection from the SpentSmart.EatSmart website.  It is designed for families who have limited time and want to stretch their food dollars. Eighty recipes are featured in the spiral bound collection; color photos are included for many of the recipes.  The cookbook includes a glossary of cooking terms, abbreviations and measurements, a list of substitutions, tips and options for each recipe, nutrition labels and meal ideas. There is a category for each section of the meal:  main dish, appetizer, salad, side dish, dessert and snacks.

I’m excited about the cookbook.  Reviewers were impressed with the helpful tips, menus and extras that were added to make each recipe simple to prepare.

Here are some other gift ideas related to cooking or food.

A great gift that you don’t have to shop for

If you still have people to buy for the week of Christmas, maybe it is time to consider a gift that involves a resource we all have (although in limited amounts)our time.  Here are some ideas.

  • Get together with a friend or relative you’ve been meaning to see this year, or someone you used to see often, but have lost touch with. Invite them out for coffee or a mealor to your home. Don’t just say, let’s get together…get your calendar out and set a date.
  • Offer to take an older relative to see friends or loved ones they can’t easily visit.
  • Take someone who may be troubled or depressed out to coffee. Then really listen if they want to talk about a problem they are facing.
  • Offer to take nieces/nephews to Laser Tag (or other local entertainment) with one of their friends. This might also give their parents a few free hours.

The list is endless. All it takes is some thought on your part and a commitment to follow through.

If you want something to present, how about a gift coupon. I made these coupons in Microsft Word by choosing a clip art image that matched what the coupon will say, and then typing the phrase next to the picture. If you like, put the coupons into an envelope and decorate the envelope with hearts, mistletoe, et cetera.

Happy Holidays!

-pointers by Peggy

Food Gifts: Give of your time and talent, save dollars

This holiday season there are many reasons to make gifts of food. The gift is more personal, you can save money and control nutrition for those on specialized dietsand, you really do give a bit of your heart.

Food gifts can be given individually, or developed around a theme. Just group like items together in a basket and wrap them with cellophane paper and ribbons—like muffins or quick breads and packets of tea. Consider things like dried foods, jerky, condiments, low-moisture breads and cakes, cookies, candies, flavored coffees, teas, cereals and nuts. All are candidates for edible gifts that also can be shipped.

I remember the year I got a new mixer and made a dozen large braided Christmas wreaths made from yeast dough. Other years I have given soup mix , salsa and cherry and peach jam.

When my grandfather was alive and living on his own,  I remember buying a set of plastic containers and making him homemade dinners that I would freeze after meals with my family. When we visited, I would gather the clean containers and take them home to fill again. He seemed to enjoy the dinners and it was something I could give all year long.

If you are giving gifts of food this year, please share what you are doing. I am always looking for new ideas.

Corn Chip Chili Mix

Ingredients for each gift jar

  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons dried parsley or cilantro (optional)
  • 1/4 cup dehydrated minced onion
  • 1 1/2 cups dry beans (such as black, pinto, garbanzo, or kidney)
  • 1- to 2-ounce package of corn chips, unopened


  1. Wash hands.
  2. Layer the ingredients in the order listed in a 1-quart glass jar or food-grade plastic container.
  3. Place the corn chip package on top of the beans. Cover with lid. Attach gift tag.

-pointers by Peggy

Amazing Chocolate Fudge

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, so (I think) I deserve chocolate! But, chocolate is expensive when it comes to my calorie and money budgets. A co-worker has a recipe for fudge made with pinto beans that should be less expensive than commercial chocolates. Although it won’t be so healthy I can eat all I want, it will be less un-healthy than what I might otherwise buy. The fudge is called Amazing Chocolate Fudge.

Here are additional tips:

  • It would be cheaper to purchase dried pinto beans and cook them; but, I bought the canned store brand on sale. First, I drained and rinsed them—it cuts down on the sodium by about a third.
  • The recipe says to sift the powdered sugar; but, if it’s fresh you can skip this step. If you do need to sift it, just use a wire mesh strainer and large spoon to work as a sieve.
  • If you have an electric mixer, use it. It will get a workout though—remember fudge is supposed to be thick! It’s amazing how the powdered sugar just melts and makes the fudge more spreadable.
  • Once the powdered sugar is mixed in, you may add walnuts and dried cherries if you like. I added cherries to mine because President’s Day, also celebrated in February, makes me think of cherries. Even though I purchased the store brand, they can be pretty expensive. Raisins would do just as well and be lots cheaper. 

Amazing Chocolate Fudge (You’ll never guess pinto beans are the amazing ingredient!)
48 Pieces

2 1/2 tablespoons margarine or butter
2 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate
1 1/2 cups cooked pinto beans (one 15-ounce can equals 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1/2 cup dried cherries (optional)

  1. Spray an 8-inch square pan with cooking spray; set aside.
  2. Melt margarine and baking chocolate together.
  3. Warm the beans 1-2 minutes in the microwave. This makes them easier to mash and the fudge easier to stir.
  4. Combine the beans and margarine/chocolate mixture in a food processor or blender and mash.
  5. Scrape bean mixture into a bowl, add cocoa and vanilla.
  6. Gradually mix in powdered sugar—mixture will be stiff.
  7. Stir in walnuts and/or dried cherries if you like.
  8. Press into pan. Cut into 48 pieces (6 x 8). Store fudge in refrigerator up to one week. If you won’t get it all eaten in a week, divide into smaller packages and freeze.

Now, enjoy a little chocolate on Valentine’s Day and not totally blow your budget! 

Each piece w/walnuts and cherries: 70 calories, 2.1 g fat, 0.6 g saturated fat, 0.1 g trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 29.3 mg sodium, 12.8 g carbohydrate, 0.9 g fiber, 0.9 g protein
Cost: 10¢/piece with nuts and cherries; 6¢/piece with no nuts or fruit

Source: Vegetable Desserts by E. Schafer& J. L. Miller, RD. Chronimed Publishing, Minneapolis, MN.  ISBN 1-56561-135-7.

-contributed by Jan Temple 

Make Valentine’s Day special…and affordable

I find Valentine’s Day a welcome break between the holidays and spring. However, everything connected with the holiday seems to cost money—cards, flowers, a special dinner out…

What does your family do to celebrate Valentine’s and not spend a lot of money?

When our four children were young, we dimmed the lights, added a candle to the table and enjoyed a candlelight dinner. Sometimes we cut out and hung red and white paper hearts for decorations. Sometimes we created homemade cards (and we still do).

The food wasn’t gourmet. The kids liked simple foods and they wanted to be involved. Pizza is a hit with most kids. The crust can be shaped into a heart shape for the occasion, and the kids can make their own pizza from an assortment of toppings. Cranberry oatmeal snack bars are an idea for dessert or a snack.

Now our kids are grown. If my husband and I want to go out for a special meal, we try to do it on a day other than Valentine’s Day. We find it less busy and the food is a better quality.

Maybe you have a way to make Valentine’s special for your family…I’d love to hear about it.

Cranberry Oatmeal Snack Bars


  • 1 cup dried cranberries or raisins
  • 1/4 cup orange, pineapple, apple, or cranberry juice
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups quick cooking oats
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup margarine, softened (about 10 1/2 tablespoons)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)


  1. Wash hands.
  2. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly coat a 13x9x2-inch baking pan with cooking spray; set aside.
  3. Combine the cranberries and juice in a microwavable bowl. Microwave on high 30 seconds. Let stand 10 minutes.
  4. Combine the flour, oats, baking powder, and salt; set aside.
  5. Beat the brown sugar and margarine together with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until well blended.
  6. Beating the eggs adds lightness and volume to the bars.
  7. Gradually stir in flour mixture, mixing well.
  8. Stir in cranberry mixture and nuts, if desired. Spread the dough evenly in prepared pan.
  9. Bake for 20 to 22 minutes or until the center is set. Cool completely on wire rack before cutting.

                                                                                              – contributed by Joyce Greving

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