Learn from our Mistakes

Most cooks have tried a recipe that did not turn out how they planned. Sometimes it’s a cake that collapses on the counter, other times it’s a roast that ended up raw in the middle. The best thing to do when this happens is to try to learn from the mistake, so it does not happen again. We have rounded up a few common mistakes people make with slow cookers to try to help you avoid them in your kitchen.

  1. Be sure your slow cooker is working properly. It is critical that your slow cooker get to the right temperature to avoid problems with food safety. If you’re like me, you may have your grandmother’s old slow cooker. The good news is – you can test it. Just fill your slow cooker halfway with water and turn it on. It needs to heat to at least 170 degrees within two hours. You can test it with a food thermometer. If after two hours, the water is cooler than 170 degrees, your slow cooker is likely not heating your food fast enough and should not be used.
  2. Prep ahead the smart way. It is helpful to prep ingredients ahead so you can drop them into your slow cooker in the morning. However, do not mix raw meat and other ingredients together in advance. The safest approach is to keep meat separate from other ingredients until you are ready to cook.
  3. Cook foods to their usual safe temperatures. This helpful guide shows safe temperatures for meat, poultry, casseroles and more. You can measure temperatures using a food thermometer. Once foods reach a safe temperature, you can hold them in the slow cooker at or above 140 degrees.

Follow these simple tips to make safe and tasty meals in your slow cooker. Happy slow cooking from the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. Team!

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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Drive Thru vs. Homemade Breakfast: Time, Cost and Nutrition

It’s 7:00 on Tuesday and I have about ten minutes to make breakfast, eat and get out the door. I’m tired and rushed, but I know I feel much better when I eat breakfast. Cooking in the morning when I’m in a hurry can be a real pain. It is tempting to just head out the door and swing past the drive thru for a breakfast sandwich on my way to work, but I wonder if that would really save me time. It is certainly convenient to have someone else make my breakfast, but I decided to do a little experiment. I wanted to learn if I could make something that was inexpensive, fast and healthy that also tasted just as good as the drive thru breakfast (or maybe even better!).

Here is what I found…



The Verdict

  • I learned that I can make a comparable breakfast in the same amount of time as the drive thru for less money. If I had this sandwich once per week for a year, I would save over $75 by making my sandwiches at home. This makes the drive thru seem a little less attractive.
  • I enjoyed my breakfast much more eating at home and I was able to customize my sandwich to my tastes. For example, I chose a whole wheat English muffin and cheddar cheese instead of American cheese. In the future, I will try this sandwich with sliced tomatoes and peppers. I think that would be really good and add very few calories and no fat. I could also make the egg part of my sandwich ahead by using our recipe for Scrambled Egg Muffins. All I would need to do in the morning is reheat the Scrambled Egg Muffin and pop it on toast or an English muffin.
  • This experiment really shows how difficult it can be to limit sodium in your diet. My homemade sandwich had more sodium than I would like and I did not add any salt. This is not something I can eat every day and perhaps in the future I will choose either Canadian bacon or cheese, but not both because they are high in sodium.

Our blogs for the next few weeks will be about fast food make-overs. Share your ideas for restaurant remakes in the comments or on Spend Smart. Eat Smart’s. Facebook page!

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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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Mise en Place: Work Smarter, Not Harder in the Kitchen

Recently when making supper for my family, I realized part way through making the pizza that I did not have any pizza sauce! I thought I had some, so didn’t check to make sure before I started making the pizza.  So supper got put on hold while I sent my husband to the store to get the pizza sauce. If I would have practiced ‘mise en place’, I would have known before I started that I didn’t have any sauce and could have run to get it before starting to cook or went to Plan B.

Mise en place is a French phrase that means to put in place. This means that before you begin preparing a dish, you gather all the items you need and prep what needs to be done ahead of time, such as chop onions. Mise en place allows food professionals to be efficient in the kitchen so they can get food prepared quickly and out to waiting customers. This handout from ISU Extension and Outreach gives you a visual explanation of mise en place.

However, you don’t need to be a professional chef to practice mise en place.

If you are preparing the Thanksgiving meal this week, practicing mise en place will help you be more efficient in the kitchen and less stressed about getting everything on the table on time! Looking at the recipes you are making will tell you what ingredients you need and what steps you need to complete. If you neglect to practice mise en place, you run the risk of not having all the ingredients on hand (like me!) or your food might burn or overcook as you rush to measure ingredients that need to be added to the dish.

I plan to start practicing mise en place more regularly to help make my time in the kitchen more efficient and enjoyable. I have a 3-year-old son, Parker. Therefore, it’s important that I get supper on the table quickly at night before he gets too hungry and wants to snack. Since I’m busy with work and other activities during the week, I try to prepare some items on the weekend so it’s easy to put supper together when I get home. I cut up veggies and put in the refrigerator and cook some meat ahead of time so it is ready when I need it. This is part of mise en place as well. A little planning and prep ahead of time saves me time (and a headache!) in the long run!

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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Splendid Table – Good Cooks Top Five

Last Monday I attended a lecture by Lynne Rossetto Kasper, who hosts the weekly radio program called The Splendid Table, on American Public Media and is the author of several award winning cookbooks.  I have to admit that I am a bit intimidated by the ingredients, recipes, cooking and wine experts I hear when I listen to the radio program (it’s on Saturday from 2-3 pm and Sunday from 11 am – 12 pm on Iowa Public Radio).

After meeting Kasper, I am impressed with her down to earth advice and charmed by the easy, fun way she interacts with the audience.  Her talk had ideas that we try to promote on our website, blog and Facebook page.  She said:

  • Meals can be simple.  Kasper says she cooks every night.  Her weeknight meals take 20-30 minutes to prepare and usually only have about 5 ingredients.
  • Get everyone involved in meals.  Meals are about the people, not just the food.
  • On weekends, Kasper says to try something you have never tried. Give yourself permission to have an adventure and let yourself enjoy cooking.  Enjoy the process and forget about the results.

In a recent blog from The Splendid Table, Kasper gives her top 5 characteristics of good cooks.  Here they are:

  1. Good cooks don’t waste anything.
  2. Good cooks clean as they go.
  3. Good cooks read a recipe from beginning to end before they begin.
  4. Good cooks taste as they go.
  5. Good cooks use their hands.


2010 Healthy Homemade Calendar on sale for just $2

Last week I wrote about making food gifts for the holidays. One of my friends asked me why I didn’t mention that our 2010 Healthy and Homemade Nutrition and Fitness Calendar is on sale for only $2 plus shipping and handling from the ISU Extension online store. Good idea—so here are some details about the calendar.

The calendar features a monthly recipe and color photo complete with ingredient list, preparation directions, nutrition facts, and menu ideas. Also, as an extra bonus, the preparation of each recipe can be viewed from the recipes section of the Spend Smart. Eat Smart web site. These videos walk even the most inexperienced cook through the recipe with ease, answering preparation and ingredient substitution questions.

In addition to facts promoting healthy homemade eating, the calendar encourages exercise, movement, and physical activity. A chart at the bottom of the calendar makes it easy to set activity goals; small boxes on each day are designed to track activity numbers. For people who have a hard time getting motivated, there are suggestions each month for building and sustaining physical activity habits. The last two pages of the calendar contain physical activity information—the amount of activity needed each day, how to fit it into your schedule, and ideas for increasing activity.

-pointers from Peggy

Plan a lunch that won’t get traded away

Have you ever visited your kids’ school lunchroom. Imagine the New York Stock exchange–only with yogurt being exchanged for a sack of chips instead of stocks being bought and sold.

One of the most important tips for packing lunches that your child won’t trade away is to involve them in the planning, shopping and preparation of their meals. Children who help select items are likely to remain interested in their selections…and will probably look forward to trying them. This is also true for meals at home, but even more important for meals eaten away from you.

-pointers by Peggy

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