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Chicken BLT Salads

Chicken BLT Salads Meal My parents are professional tomato growers. They started out small when I was young with about six plants. Now they have dozens of plants of many different varieties. Regardless of how many tomato plants they have, one thing remains the same – bacon, lettuce, and tomato (BLT) sandwiches. We feast on them along with any other fresh produce we can find (usually corn on the cob, green beans, and cucumbers).

Our recipe of the month for August is a spin on the traditional BLT sandwich – Chicken BLT Salads. Top fresh greens with cooked chicken and bacon and diced tomatoes. Then drizzle with your favorite salad dressing. I would even go a step further and add any other fresh produce you have. I think this salad would be great with carrots, corn cut from the cob, cucumbers, green beans, and onions. Give these salads a try while all this amazing produce is in season.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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Spring Produce

Each spring I love watching the plants pop up out of the ground.  Some days I feel like I can see the plants growing in my yard.  Now that we are in April, more and more fresh spring produce is popping up in the stores and in gardens.

Buying fruits and vegetables that are in season gets you the tastiest produce for the least cost.  Here are some fruits and vegetables that are in season in the spring:

  • Asparagus – snap off the woody ends and grill, steam, or roast.
  • Broccoli – cut into florets and eat raw, steam, or roast.
  • Rhubarb – eat only the reddish stalk; find out more on the AnswerLine Blog.
  • Snow peas – eat raw or add to stir-fry.
  • Spinach – eat in a salad, top off a sandwich, or add to a smoothie.
  • Strawberries – eat on their own or as a topping to your favorite dessert.

I hope you get to enjoy some fresh spring produce this week!

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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On the Counter or in the Fridge?

grocery-bag-and-producewpMy kids and I have been faithfully watering our tomato plant (we’re not getting much rain where we live!) and watching it grow this summer. We’re growing the plant in a large container and it’s the only produce we are growing this year, so we’re giving it extra good care. There are 3 green tomatoes on it so far, but lots of flowers so I think we could get quite a few tomatoes!

If you’re growing your own produce or shopping at a farmers market, it’s just about time for all that wonderful produce to be ready. It’s great to eat when it is so fresh, but when you aren’t able to eat it fast enough, it’s good to know how to properly store the produce so it lasts longer.

Here’s a quick look at how to store some types of produce:

Refrigerate:

Apples, berries, asparagus, green beans, broccoli, carrots, leafy greens, and anything that is cut up

Keep at Room Temperature:

Melons, tomatoes, squashes (store on the counter but away from direct sunlight)

Onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes (best if kept in a dark area such as a pantry)

Ripen on Counter then Refrigerate:

Nectarines, peaches, pears, plums

For more information on storing fruits and vegetables, watch our video on How to Store Fruits and Vegetables.

Jody Gatewood

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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Canning

canningHave you been bitten by the canning bug? Buying fresh local produce at the farmers market or growing it yourself in your own back yard garden has been inspiring lots of people to give canning a try. If you would like to try canning before making a huge investment in equipment, we have some suggestions.

There are two different types of canners that the home food preserver can use. Pressure canners can be expensive, so if you want to try canning, start with food that could be processed in a boiling water bath canner.

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Before you go out and spend a lot of money buying supplies, consider trying canning with equipment you already have in your home.

  • Stock pot – Large enough for canning jars to be totally submerged by 2 inches
  • Rack— this allows water to flow all around the jars and provides even heating inside the jar. You can use a round rack from a roaster or one that you cool cookies on.  If you don’t have a rack, make one by tying canning jar rings together with wire twist ties.
  • Lid for the canner—if your pot does not have a lid, use a cookie sheet or pizza pan for the lid.

You may have a family member or co-worker that canned in the past and has jars that they would like to pass on. You will want to check for cracks and nicks in the jars before using them. Be sure to wash them well or send them through the dishwasher before using them.  You can find jar rings and flats in most grocery stores. Resist the temptation to buy more than you will use in your first canning adventure. The jar lids—or flats as they are called—do expire.

Now that you have the equipment that you need and some idea of the sort of food you could preserve, it is time to find a recipe. At AnswerLine, we advise only using safe, tested recipes for your home preserved foods. By tested recipe, we mean a recipe that has been scientifically tested in a laboratory to ensure there is enough acid in the food and that it is heated long enough in the jars to remain safe over the storage life of the food. Generally speaking, recipes that have been passed down in your family don’t tend to be tested recipes. You can find tested recipes from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, The National Center for Home Food Preservation, the USDA Canning Guide, and the Ball Blue Books.  The links for these recipe resources are at the bottom of this blog. We like to use current recipes, so we advise not using any recipes older than 2009. Follow these links, or call us at AnswerLine and we will help you find recipes for the food you would like to preserve.

Recipe Reminders

  • Follow the recipe as it is written. This means no additions of other foods that might be tasty—the recipe wasn’t tested for variations. If you want to change things a bit, do it after you open the jar to serve the food.
  • Use the amount of headspace inside the jar that is prescribed in the recipe; this will give you the best quality end product.
  • Remember to adjust your recipe for altitude. All canning recipes were written as if everyone lives at sea level.  Those of us (most of the state of Iowa) that live above 1000 feet will need to add 5 minutes to any boiling water bath canning time for safe processing. If you use a weighted gauge pressure canner, add 5 pounds to the weight. If you are unsure of the altitude at your house, give us a call. We love to help.

We hope you enjoy your first attempt at canning and find a satisfying new hobby. Remember you can contact us with questions. You can reach us at 1-800-262-3804 in Iowa, 1-800-854-1678 in Minnesota, and 1-888-6336 in South Dakota. You can also call us at our local number 515-296-5883 if your area code is not from one of the above three states. Email us at answer@iastate.edu. or contact us on Facebook.

The AnswerLine staffAnswerLine
Liz, Beth, and Jill

 

 

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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Blanching your Produce

We get lots of calls at AnswerLine from gardeners who are getting ready to freeze their vegetables. Blanching helps maintain the quality of garden produce and even experienced gardeners often ask us to review the directions for blanching as it has been a while since they did it last.

Blanching food is done for quality reasons, not safety reasons. Therefore, you do not need to blanch a food that you are freezing to keep it safe.  Blanching destroys enzymes that naturally occur in food so they won’t overly soften the food while it is stored in the freezer. In order to destroy enzymes, the food must be heated long enough to penetrate the flesh of the vegetable. The National Center for Home Food Preservation has a guide available with times for blanching various vegetables.

We advise callers to work with small batches of vegetables. Otherwise the food will be in the boiling water too long and will be over cooked. If you can use a basket to lower the food into the boiling water, you can easily remove it all at once. Then you can submerge the food in ice water to stop the cooking process. After the food has cooled, package and freeze it.

Steps for blanching food:

  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
  • Place a quart sized batch of vegetables in the water.
  • After the water returns to a boil (which should be within 1 minute), set the timer.
  • When time is up, plunge the vegetables into ice water.
  • Remove the vegetables and shake or blot excess water.
  • Package and freeze.

Remember that you should not put stacks of freshly blanched food into the freezer. Instead, spread the packages around inside the freezer. This allows the food to freeze quickly, which will give the best possible frozen food. You can also spread food onto a tray or cookie sheet with sides and freeze overnight. Package it the next day and the vegetables will not stick together—just like those you buy at the grocery store.

Happy gardening and happy blanching. Remember you can contact us with questions. You can reach us at 1-800-262-3804 in Iowa, 1-800-854-1678 in Minnesota, and 1-888-6336 in South Dakota. You can also call us at our local number 515-296-5883 if your area code is not from one of the above three states. Email us at answer@iastate.edu. or contact us on Facebook.

The AnswerLine staffAnswerLine

Liz, Beth, and Jill

 

Link for guide  http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/freeze/blanching.html

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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How many fruits and vegetables do you need?

Here are the facts.fruit salad in bowl

  • Most of us know that we need to eat fruits and vegetables.
  • Few of us eat what we need.
  • Many of us don’t know how much we (or our children) need when it comes to fruits and veggies.
  • Most of us need to eat a bigger variety of fruits and especially vegetables and prepare them without lots of added salt, fat and sugar (more on that next week).

I am fortunate that I grew up eating lots of fruits and vegetables and now that my kids are adults they enjoy a wide variety as well. My grandson, age 14 months will eat most fruits but he is not as fond of vegetables. Right now adding vegetables to his favorites seems to work best. I added shredded carrots to sloppy joes, small chunks of vegetables to macaroni and cheese, etc. With time and lots of exposure I bet he will learn to enjoy the different colors and flavors.

Jody Gatewood, from our SpendSmart team, discusses  the amounts of fruits and vegetables you need every day and some easy ways to get them into your meals and snacks. We also have a handout you can print on this topic.

Seasonal Produce – The time has come!

vegetables fruit mixed heartWarm weather has finally arrived here in Iowa and locally grown produce is starting to become available. Summer is my favorite time of year to cook because my favorite ingredients like tomatoes, fresh green beans and bell peppers are in season. When fruits and vegetables are in season they are often available at a lower price and fresh-picked produce tastes great.

I grow some of my favorites myself like tomatoes, herbs and peppers in pots on my patio. I shop for other items at the farmers’ market or even my local grocery store. I find that grocery stores in my area carry much more local produce than they did in the past. Here in Iowa we often see locally grown tomatoes, sweet corn, hot and sweet peppers and salad greens in the produce aisle in the summer.

Check out our video about eating seasonally and let us know what you’re looking forward to growing or eating this summer!

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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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Plant. Grow. Share.

plant grow share

Is your garden overflowing with tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash or zucchini and you are not quite sure what to do with the extra harvest? Consider donating your fresh garden produce to your local food pantry.

Many food pantries are in need of fresh produce for their clients. And while some gardeners are aware of produce donation some hesitate to take excess produce to a food pantry because of concerns of liability and donated produce going to waste.

But you don’t have to worry; Good Samaritan Laws protect you from any liability when donating produce. While produce does not have a long shelf life, it’s always the first off the shelves so it never goes to waste. Since fresh produce is an uncommon item at food pantries, every little bit helps and your community will thank you for it.

If you are donating produce to a food pantry or other organization, check out this great tip sheet on safe produce handling practices.

HOW CAN I HELP?

Cultivate Iowa is asking you to donate extra garden produce to your local food pantry. You don’t need to have a big garden to donate; any amount is helpful and needed. So if you find yourself with extra produce throughout the year, please consider donating to your local food pantry.

READY TO START DONATING?

STEP 1: Make the promise today to donate tomorrow and help your community. Go to www.CultivateIowa.org and click on ‘Donate Produce’ at the top of the page.

Step 2: Click the red ‘I PROMISE TO DONATE FRESH PRODUCE’ button and enter your email address and zip code.

Step 3: Enter your zip code in the green box to find locations in your community where you can donate fresh produce.

Step 4. Deliver your produce to the food pantry soon after it has been picked.Veggies in bowl

In the words of one Iowa gardener “Zucchini is a gateway drug. Once you get growers hooked on how good donating feels, they will find other produce to share as well.”

The Cultivate Iowa campaign aims to cultivate food security and improve health of Iowans by increasing access to garden produce through integrated coordination, social marketing and outreach strategies specifically targeting low-resource Iowans and food gardeners. Cultivate Iowa is a signature project of the Iowa Food Systems Council’s Food Access and Health Work Group. To learn more about the Cultivate Iowa initiative, go to www.CultivateIowa.org.

Guest Blogger,

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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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Is fruit really too expensive?

On a recent shopping trip, I started thinking about the cost of produce—bananas to be specific. It seems their cost has really skyrocketed over the past few years. I’m probably dating myself by admitting that I remember when I could buy bananas for 25 cents a pound! On this shopping trip to a big box store, the cost was 64 cents a pound. Well, it’s no wonder families are tempted to buy snack food to satisfy their hungry members instead of produce. So, being a home economist, I decided to do a comparison. I bought 5 bananas that weighed 1.71 pounds; the cost was $1.09. That meant that each banana cost between 20 and 21 cents each.

Next, I strolled over to the snack aisle and looked at a package of taco chips. The regular size bag cost $3.99. How many bananas could I buy for the cost of a bag of chips? Nineteen bananas! For a family of four, each member could have a banana a day for about 5 days for the cost of one bag of chips.

I’m sure the chips would not last that long at most houses; but, neither would the bananas. The lesson for me was that fresh produce may seem expensive, but when you calculate it by serving (a banana is one serving), the cost is reasonable. The challenge is to know—and serve—just one serving. Fresh produce tastes so good it may be hard to eat just one. Sounds like the start of a campaign—”I bet you can’t eat just one.” Oh, right, that’s already been used with a chip commercial.

                                           -contributed by Susan Klein