Sunday, December 9, 2012

Tidbits: What to do with Pomegranates?

As you may have noticed, pomegranates are in season! The grocery store has piles of red pomegranates next to oranges.  Decorator-type people use fresh pomegranates on wreaths and swags, while foodies use them in green salads, in fresh fruit salads, sprinkled on cereal and as an ingredient in combination fruit juices.

But have you ever tried to open up a pomegranate to remove those beautiful red gems of seeds (technically called arils)? Getting the seeds out (without making a big mess) is not the easiest thing to accomplish, I have found.

According to Martha (yes, THE Martha), when she was a recent guest on the Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me radio show, there is a fairly quick and easy way to remove the seeds from a pomegranate.  First, carefully cut through just the pomegranate skin, slicing it as if you are quartering it. Pull the quarters apart to reveal the red seeds.

Next, get a big bowl.  Take each quarter, seed side facing your palm, and with your other hand, tap the tough pomegranate skin with the back of a wooden spoon. The seeds should pop into the bowl without much effort.  Oh, and wear an apron or clothing that you don’t mind a few stains on, because pomegranates stain fabric like crazy.

Martha has a video clip of this procedure if you’d like to see it before trying.

As far a nutrition, one-half cup of arils or seeds contain 72 calories, 16 grams of carbohydrate, 3 grams fiber, 1 gram fat and 1 gram protein, plus 15 percent of your daily value of vitamin C.  A pretty and nutritious addition to your seasonal fruit choices!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

New Food Safety App

"Is My Food Safe" is a newer free app to help you with those nagging questions, such as:

  • Is that leftover item from last weekend still good?
  • How long can I keep that opened container of sour cream?
  • How long does it take to roast this whole chicken?

There's even a quiz "Is my Kitchen Safe?"  I took the quiz and got one wrong! Even though I am the Queen of Food Safety (and no one wants to hear about that, by the way), I missed the question about the safe way to thaw food. I picked the answer "in the refrigerator", but the right answer was "in the refrigerator and in the microwave".

Ok, I know you can thaw stuff in the microwave. But I also know that microwaves cook and thaw unevenly, and I was thinking about a friend who thaws meat in her microwave in the morning, and there it sits until she's ready to cook dinner (Yikes!)

To read more about the app, check out the Home Food Safety web site.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

What's For Dinner: Italian Salad

Today I'm featuring a simple fresh salad to go with your fall dinners (we served it with butternut squash and baked chicken legs). I call it Italian Salad because it is similar to the one I sold as a deli clerk at Kroger's (many moons ago). This is a great way to use up tomatoes that are getting a little wrinkly and cucumbers that can't wait two more days to be used. This is what I did:

Recipe: Italian Salad

  • 1 cucumber, quartered and sliced (I used an English hothouse cucumber because I like to see cucumber skin and I don't like to wash the wax off; these are wrapped in thin plastic and not waxed)
  • 8-10 small tomatoes, quartered, then halved again (I used Campari cocktail tomatoes; they are the size of a golf ball)
  • 1/4 cup diced sweet onion
  • 1/2 red bell pepper (another item that needed to be used)
  • 1/4 cup Newman's Own Olive Oil and Vinegar dressing
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In medium bowl, add cucumber, tomatoes, onion, red pepper and dressing. Mix well and refrigerate for at least an hour. This can be kept in the fridge for 2-3 days so you'll have fresh salad without fuss.

Makes 6-8 servings.

Nutrition information per serving:  86 calories, 1 gram protein, 6 grams fat, 7 grams carb, 2 grams fiber, 0 milligrams cholesterol, 60 milligrams sodium.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

"Healthy" Oat Chocolate Chip Cookies

So how can a cookie be healthy? When whole wheat flour replaces some of the white, when it contains oats, and when it has half dark chocolate chips and half semi-sweet.  If you came to my house for a visit, these are the cookies I almost always have on hand.

This recipe is an adaptation of the oatmeal cookie recipe on the Quaker Oat box. It took a few tweaks to get it to the point where I am happy with the results.

Here's the reason why I thought I had better retype the recipe I actually use:

Can you read all those extra scribbles in the margins? Me neither. But I have the recipe memorized; I keep this old recipe cut from the box just in case I have a brain fart.

Anyway, here's what I really do:

Healthy Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies       
  • 1-1/4  cups (2-1/2 sticks) margarine or butter, softened (I use one stick butter and the rest margarine)
  • 3/4  cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2  cup granulated sugar
  • 1  egg
  • 1  teaspoon vanilla
  • 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1  teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2  teaspoon salt
  • 3  cups Quaker® Oats, uncooked (I use “quick oats”)
  • 2 cups chocolate chips (half 60 percent Bittersweet Ghirardelli dark and half Nestle Toll House chips)        
  • Heat oven to 375°F. In large bowl, beat margarine, butter and sugars until creamy. Add egg and vanilla; beat well. In separate bowl, combine flours, baking soda and salt; mix into sugar / margarine mixture. Add oats; mix well. Add chocolate chips, mix well.

Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls (I use a one-tablespoon scoop) onto ungreased cookie sheets.
Bake 10 minutes. Cool 1-2 minutes on the cookie sheet; remove to wire rack. Cool completely. Store tightly covered and freeze.

Nutrition information per cookie: 128 calories, 1 gram protein, 7 grams fat, 15 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 9 milligrams cholesterol, 88 milligrams sodium

Friday, October 19, 2012

Q & A: What's Wrong with White?

Q.  I was told by my doctor to “avoid everything white”, but I’m not sure what that means. Can  you help? M.S. Grandville, MI

A.  I have never been a fan of simplistic advice, which seems to have multiplied with all the access to health and food/cooking shows on the TV.  Advice like this usually confuses more people than it helps. 

At least once a week, but usually more often, someone asks how to eat now that they aren’t allowed to eat white food. The person who gave the “no white food” advice hasn’t really thought through how people take that message. Believe me, very literal people will look at every white food as suspect. And others will assume that a whole grain “brown” food is so good for you that it doesn’t matter how much you eat of it. 

But wait a minute! What about other white foods? There are a number of white foods that are very good for you. Don’t believe me? Look at the partial list below, from the September/October 2012 issue of Diabetes Self-Management magazine:
  • White beans
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Parsnips
  • Rutabaga
  • Turnips
  • Water chestnuts
  • Yogurt
  • Cottage cheese
  • Mozzarella cheese
  • Flesh of bananas, apples and pears 

Please people, quit giving black-and-white advice about white food. There are usually exceptions and grey areas in most recommendations. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Tidbits: Quick Acorn Squash

It's fall in Michigan and time for squash!

Acorn squash is a winter squash, meaning that it has a hard shell and can be stored for a month or more in a cool, dry place for later eating. Acorn squash has a medium yellow flesh, and contains some vitamin A (but if you're looking for lots of beta carotene/vitamin A, check out hubbard squash with over ten times the carotene, or butternut squash, with over 20 times the beta carotene. The darker orange the flesh, the more beta carotene it contains). Acorn squash also provides 110 calories per cup, 20 grams carb, 9 grams fiber, and 22 milligrams vitamin C.

Normally, it takes a little planning to have a fresh winter squash for dinner. The traditional way of preparing them is to wash the outside very well (they sit in the soil), carefully slice them in half, scoop out the seeds, and then season and bake for an hour or so at 350 degrees F.

If you don't have that much time, but want to have squash, here is a quick tip I learned from a farmer at the market last year.  Wash the acorn squash, poke it with a sharp knife in several places, then microwave on high for 15 minutes. Be sure to cook it on a glass pie plate or something similar so you can get this hot squash out of the microwave oven. Ask me how I know.

Now, slice the squash in half, scoop out the steaming seeds (save them for the squirrels). Season squash and eat. I microwaved the squash above, but finished baking it in the regular oven at 350 degrees for 15 minutes because I like it to have a little brown color (and the chicken legs were lonely in the oven).

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Tidbits: Getting the most Bang for your Vitamin D Buck

Vitamin D is known as the “sunshine vitamin”, because skin exposed to the sun can produce vitamin D for you.  If you live nearer to the equator, it is more likely that you have OK blood vitamin D levels, because the sun is at the right angle most of the year to produce vitamin D via skin exposure.

But in the U.S., if you live above the 42nd parallel (roughly a line from Boston to Chicago to Portland, Oregon), the sun is at the correct angle only from mid-March thru mid-October. This means that for over half of the year, people above this line cannot produce their own vitamin D, even if you were outside in the sun all day. (More quick facts about Vitamin D here.)

It was not common to be tested for Vitamin D levels until fairly recently. And if you were found to have a low vitamin D blood level, your provider often recommended supplementation with vitamin D, such as 1000 to 2000 units of vitamin D daily, or if the levels were very low, a prescription for 50,000 units vitamin D weekly.

(By the way, it is not very wise to take extra vitamin D “just because”, as it can build up in the body to toxic levels. To be safe, it’s best to ask for a blood test to see if you even need extra vitamin D.)

Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation Bone Clinic noticed that some of their patients did not achieve optimal vitamin D levels despite taking large doses of vitamin D for months.  They noted that many patients took the supplement either on an empty stomach or with a light morning meal.

Because vitamin D is fat soluble, meaning that it is better absorbed into the body with a fat-containing meal, they asked the study participants to take the vitamin D with the biggest meal of the day, thinking it may help improve absorption.

Sure enough, after two to three months, average blood levels of vitamin D in the participants jumped 50 percent, from about 30.5 nanograms per milliliter, to 47.2 ng/ml.

So the lesson to be learned: If  you need to take vitamin D to correct a deficiency, you are likely to get the most benefit from vitamin D if you take it with your biggest meal of the day (and be sure the meal contains some fat).

Monday, September 17, 2012

What's For Dinner: Vegetable, Beef and Barley Soup

It's getting cooler in the midwest, so time to get out the soup pans. My Vegetable, Beef and Barley soup is tried and true, and easy to whip up in a flash if you keep the ingredients on hand.
Vegetable, beef and barley soup

3/4 cup quick barley
4 cups water
1/2  tablespoon beef base (or 2-3 beef bouillon cubes)
24 to 32 ounces low-sodium V-8 or tomato juice (or add 3-4 cups more water if  you are out of tomato juice)
1 pound lean ground beef (or ground turkey)
3/4 to 1 cup chopped onions
1-2 clove garlic, minced  (or 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder)
1 pound package frozen mixed vegetables (corn, peas, carrots)
14 ounces canned diced tomatoes           
1 tablespoon chili powder (2 tablespoons if using ground turkey)
1/2 cup chopped celery tops and leaves (optional, but a good addition)

In large soup pan (Dutch oven size) bring  4 cups water to boil and add barley. Simmer for 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile in large nonstick fry pan, brown ground beef, then drain well on paper towels. Sauté the chopped onions and garlic over medium heat in the ground beef pan, just until they start to turn translucent (don’t brown them).

Add the tomato juice, ground beef, sautéed onions and garlic, mixed vegetables, chili powder and celery tops to barley in Dutch oven.  Simmer for 30 minutes (or at this point, you can add the ingredients,  then put in the refrigerator for tomorrow – the frozen vegetables help cool the soup and the soup tastes better the second day, just like a lot of things).  When reheating, add more water as needed to get the consistency you like (barley keeps soaking up liquid and makes the soup thick).

Serves 6 hungry people. Serve with grainy rolls and salad. 

Nutrition information per serving: 338 calories, 24 grams protein, 8 grams fat, 41 grams carbohydrate, 10 grams fiber, 60 milligrams cholesterol, 527 milligrams sodium.

Cook’s notes:    I usually double this recipe, but use a large stock pot.

This soup can feed a crowd, and it’s also perfect to give half away to a friend, or to someone recovering from surgery, or half can be frozen for a later meal. Also, if desired, add a can of drained black beans or another bean to the soup for more protein.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Q & A: Using Green Coffee Beans to Lose Weight?

Green, unroasted coffee beans.

Q.            My mother told me that she saw a TV medical show that was talking about using a special green coffee bean extract to lose weight. Is that anything you’ve heard of? I’m rather skeptical of the idea, but is there any merit in trying it? M.L. Wyoming, Michigan

A.            There is scant information available for people to use to decide yes or no on this type of product. The one study that was done had very few participants (less than 20); the study truly should be repeated with a larger group to see if there is validity to the weight loss claims (it’s bad science to make recommendations or change your life habits based on one study).
            So in the meantime, what can you do? If you do decide to try this up-and-coming fad (yes, it’s looking like a fad to me), be aware that you will be conducting an experiment on yourself. Is it worth the 30 or so dollars a month to see if it will work?
            If you’d like to read a more detailed analysis of why this new diet plan may not be the best, check out the article at the Science-Based Medicine blog.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Q & A: Improving Iron Absorption with Vitamin C

My cast iron Griswold #8; one of many ways to get some iron in your diet.

 Q:         I have been trying to increase the level of iron in my blood for the past year. I am on a larger dose of iron, yet no improvement. I had heard taking the iron with orange juice can help the iron be used by the body, and so I tried adding orange juice. But the acidity from the juice really bothers me, so then I end up not taking my iron at all.
Are there any other options instead of the orange juice? H.M. Grand Rapids

A.        Yes, there are a number of options that can help boost iron absorption.  You can take  your pill with water, and include any vitamin-C containing food along with. It’s the vitamin C that has been proven to help enhance absorption of iron. Here is a list of commonly-eaten vitamin C foods.

            What you don’t want to do is take your iron tablet with milk, or at the same time you take your calcium. Why? Because calcium blocks some of the absorption of iron. I had a patient once who was faithfully taking her iron for over a year, but had no change in her blood level of iron (hemoglobin). Upon questioning, I learned she was taking her iron with a big glass of milk; her iron pills didn’t even have a chance to get into her system.

            Some of you may be wondering why take an iron pill when there are foods that contain iron (more about iron-containing foods here).  It’s true that if your iron levels are OK or slightly low, you can choose iron-containing foods and keep your iron levels good. But some people have had a low blood iron level for so long that all of their body’s stores of iron have become depleted. At that point, a larger-dose  iron tablet is required, and even with that, it can take months to build the stores of iron so that the blood iron levels finally reflect that there is enough iron in the body.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Tidbit: Great Reasons to shop the Farmers Market

Photo courtesy of Alice Henneman, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

I missed National Farmers market week (it's earlier in August) but I’m here to declare August Farmers Market Month.

We have a small “Healthy Street” farmers market every Thursday in the summer, directly in front of the hospital where I work in Grand Rapids. It’s fun to browse on my lunch break and find yummy things to bring home for the next few night’s dinners.

My favorite farmers market thing this year was fresh strawberry shortcake served with fresh biscuits, fresh strawberries, and real whipping cream from the Dunneback Girls (local farmers on 6-Mile Road). That day I called it my lunch! (Sorry, I ate it so fast I didn’t get a photo).

There are many great reasons to shop at a local farmers market. (Here is a link to tell you 9 reasons, from University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension.)  For me, the biggest reason to shop farmers markets is that you are helping support your local farmers.

Did you know that of every dollar spent in the conventional food market, 91 cents goes to suppliers, processors, middlemen and marketers, while 9 cents goes to the farmer? But farmers who sell direct to consumers through the farmers market or through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) keep 80 to 90 cents of each dollar. That’s huge, because there's no middleman!

I’ll be picking up more squash, tomatoes, green beans and bread tomorrow, and maybe some peaches if there are any left. Yum!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

What's for Dinner: Italian Summer Squash and Tomatoes

If you have a garden with abundant summer squash, or a friend/neighbor/relative who likes to gift you with their bounty, here's a simple and healthy side dish idea for you.  This recipe is very forgiving; I like to use both the zucchini and the yellow crookneck squash because it's more colorful.
Summer squash, onions and garlic getting nicely browned.
Recipe: Italian Summer Squash and Tomatoes
2 small zucchini squash ( 6-8 inch), sliced lengthwise in quarters then chopped
1 small crookneck squash, sliced lengthwise in quarters, then chopped
1/2 sweet onion, chopped
2 to 4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
1/2 to 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
salt and pepper to taste

In large non-stick pan, sauté the summer squashes in olive oil over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes. Add the onions and garlic and continue the sautéing. When everything is getting slightly browned, add the diced tomatoes and Italian seasoning. Heat through for about 2 minutes, then serve.
Finished dish.
Serves about 6 people as a side (for us it's 4 servings because we really like vegetables).  We had this with a small steak and leftover broccoli salad.

Nutritional information per serving:  66 calories, 2 grams protein, 2 grams fat, 9 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber, 0 milligrams cholesterol, 104 milligrams sodium.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tidbit: Are you Treating your Walnuts right?

            I learned some great info at the AADE conference from a vendor booth! Who better to give great advice about walnuts than the California Walnut Board? They want you to be happy with your walnuts and to treat your walnuts right.
As you know, any fresh food needs TLC, and walnuts are no exception.  Walnuts are heart healthy, contain omega-3 fats and are a decent snack for someone with diabetes because they do not affect blood sugar.
Walnuts contain primarily polyunsaturated fat, which makes them more susceptible to the ill effects of oxygen and heat exposure.

            I have always stored walnuts and other baking nuts in the freezer because I use them often enough for various dishes, but I don’t go through a pound bag very quickly. I detest rancid or “off” flavored nuts, and really do not like having to throw them away if they have turned rancid (but there’s no fixing the flavor once it’s gone).
            Here are tips from the California Walnut Board to keep your walnuts the most flavorful and fresh:
  • If storing for 6 months or less, keep them in the refrigerator.
  • If storing longer than 6 months, keep them in the freezer (0 degrees F).
  • Store in air-tight packaging.
  • Store away from foods with strong odors, such as cabbage and onions.
  • And, don’t chop nuts until you are ready to use them for the best flavor.

           It’s true that walnuts, like other nuts, have quite a bit of fat and calories, but they are a good snack if you can keep your portions in line. About 4 walnuts halves contain 45 calories, so an afternoon snack of 8 to 12 walnut halves can keep  your appetite at bay and maybe keep you from scrounging around for a not-as-healthful candy bar or bag of chips. 
For walnut recipes and more walnut info, check out the California Walnut Board’s site.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Tidbit: How to Avoid Mindless Eating

I attended the 4-day diabetes educators national conference (AADE) in Indianapolis last week.  As a registered dietitian, we are required to obtain at least 75 credits of continuing ed every 5 years.  I got 20 credits for this conference and lots of new ideas to help people, both those with diabetes and others.

I plan to share a few tips and things I found interesting over the next few blog posts.

One of our keynote speakers, Dr. Brian Wansink from Cornell University Food and Brand Labs, spoke about  “From Mindless Eating to Mindlessly Eating Better”.

It seems obvious, but he has done lots of research looking at what things in the environment make a big difference in the amount of food we eat.
Some of his observations:
  • You pour less in a skinny tall glass than in a short fat glass.
  • You eat more when serving yourself in a big bowl vs. a small bowl.
  • Same thing with the size of a plate.
  • You eat more when the food has less contrast with the plate or bowl. For instance, spaghetti with red sauce has a good contrast with a white plate; macaroni and cheese has a poor contrast with a yellow plate.

What’s so interesting is that even when people are coached ahead of time not to take as much food because of the bowl size, they still do (apparently they can’t help it).

He also has been doing school lunchroom makeovers to change the environment so that kids can’t help but to choose healthier.  Some of the things they did at schools to increase fruit and vegetable consumption without bribes or reducing the price:
  • Put the bowl of fresh fruit at the beginning of the lunch line, not the end. Use a pretty bowl for the fruit, and light it from above.  Fruit sales went up over 100 percent in some schools.
  • Move the salad bar from the corner of the lunchroom to the middle, where kids can’t help but see it.  I forgot the exact increase in sales but it was nearly as good as the fruit.

 More info about the Smarter Lunchroom Movement is here

Dr. Wansink contends that you can’t make yourself think harder about food in order to do better with food choices. You have to change your environment to make it happen (“the best diet is the diet you don’t know you’re on”).

Three easy things that he recommends everyone do to make a difference in calorie intake without too much effort:
  • Start using a smaller plate.
  • Portion the ice cream (get the good stuff but have only one scoop)
  • Put fresh fruit in a pretty bowl on your kitchen counter.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Q & A: Gluten-Free Pretzels not Better for Weight Loss; Gluten-free cookie recipe

Q.            I was wondering if I should buy gluten-free pretzels to help me lose weight? I have been hearing people comment about using gluten-free foods for that purpose. B.M. Grandville

A.            There is no need to choose gluten-free pretzels over regular pretzels unless you need to avoid gluten, such as with celiac disease. Take a look, but I have noticed that the gluten-free foods seem to have the same or even more calories than traditional foods.

            Even though there are a lot of products proclaiming that they are gluten free, just what does gluten-free mean? It means that the product does not have the grains that contain gluten, such as wheat, rye and barley. Oats are iffy, as they may be contaminated with gluten if they are processed in a facility that packages gluten-containing grains. Oats must be certified gluten free to be OK.

            Gluten is the protein part of a grain that makes bread springy and helps the yeast make the bread rise. Gluten-free breads are often heavier and denser because of this.

            A gluten-free eating plan for celiac disease is one of the most difficult ones to follow, as it means limited restaurant foods. There is no regular breads for sandwiches, no regular pizza, no regular pasta, and no breaded foods, unless these items are made specially gluten-free.

            Celiac disease is an auto-immune disease that can lead to malnutrition because the intestine becomes damaged from the gluten and unable to absorb nutrients. It is very important to follow the gluten-free diet as strictly as possible, because the gluten triggers an immune response that can affect other parts of the body, too.

            If someone is newly diagnosed with celiac disease, they may be referred to a registered dietitian for guidance. I see a number of people with celiac, and I always recommend getting connected with others with celiac (just Google your city for celiac support group to find the nearest one).  There are a number of good resources online for gluten-free ideas, recipes and information such as

            And I always tell people that if it were me, I would start with simple changes first, such as using potatoes and rice as the starchy side dish rather than bread or noodles. Then later you can hunt around for acceptable gluten-free breads and pastas (you may need to try a few before you find one you like).

            I am always scouting recipes for ones that can be used for people with celiac as well as for the rest of us.  You may have seen this peanut butter cookie recipe around, but it turns out great with absolutely no flour. You’ll have to try it to believe it.

Peanut Butter Cookies (Gluten-free)
 from Mennonite Girls Can Cook blog

1 cup peanut butter (they prefer Jif)
1 cup white sugar
1 egg

Beat all ingredients in a bowl. Roll into 1-inch balls and place on ungreased cookie sheet. Press each cookie with a fork.
Bake 350 F oven for 10-11 minutes. Yields 16 cookies (I usually double the recipe).

Nutritional information per cookie:  147 calories, 4 grams protein, 8 grams fat, 15 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Q & A: How to make the best use of Turkey Roll while keeping it safe

Q:            I received a 6-pound frozen turkey roll (already cooked) from the food bank. It is in my freezer. I am not sure how to handle it (no directions). If I thaw it, I will have to eat it all and it will take a couple of weeks for me to eat it. It won’t last that long in the fridge. I assume since it is already cooked I cannot re-freeze it. Do you have any ideas? M.F. Grand Rapids, MI

A.            I find it interesting that there were no cooking or handling directions on the turkey roll. Maybe it was packaged for commercial or institutional kitchens who usually have their own large volume recipes.
Anyway, now that you have the large turkey roll, here are a couple of ideas that are safe and can help you stretch it into many meals: 
  1. If you know someone with upper body strength (and the right knife) you could have them saw the turkey roll into portions, maybe into  quarter portions, so you could use one part and return the rest to the freezer.
  2. You could heat the whole turkey roll, slice it into meal portions, then refreeze in individual freezer bags.  Cooking directions for that size of turkey roll, based on whole turkey cooking directions, is to set the oven at 325 F, bake (with a little tent of foil over top) for 2 hours, and check it with a meat thermometer to help you know when it is done (165 degrees F is the safe internal temperature for poultry). Click here for instructions about proper use of a meat thermometer.
  3. As a variation on number 2, you could heat the whole turkey roll, save some of it as slices and cube the rest for stew or homemade soup, then refreeze those ready-to-go cubes in 1 cup or 2 cup portions.

More about Food Safety:
 I know you hear warnings about not refreezing food after it has been thawed (say, when your power goes out), but you would be fine using the directions above because you're heating it to a safe temperature first.

There are a couple of do’s and don’ts to know about freezing vs. not refreezing items. First, there’s the food safety issue. If your power goes out, the perishable food’s temperature may have gotten in the "danger zone" , between 40 and 140 degrees F, without you knowing it, and bacteria multiply profusely in these temperatures.  The one time that it is OK to refreeze meat-type items is when they still contain ice crystals, because that means the meat is still less than 40 degrees F.  (More about saving or tossing food after a power outage here).

Second, there’s a quality issue. If your power went out, and your frozen fruits or vegetables thawed, refreezing them could be safe if they still have ice crystals, but the food may have a less appealing texture when thawed or heated for your meal.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Simple Supper salad

It's been so hot and humid here I think my brain has fried and turned to mush.
And because of the fried brain syndrome, I present a simple salad to go with our simple supper.
Add some vinaigrette dressing, a piece of grilled sirloin and a microwaved "baked" potato, and there's a don't-heat-your-house meal!
I definitely don't want to turn on the stove or the oven. For anything.

We sit outside at the picnic table because "it's summer!" But as soon as dinner is done we run back in to the air-conditioning. What wusses we have become.

Do you have any favorite minimally-heated summer meals?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Tidbit: Watermelon = Summer

In our part of the world, really good watermelon is only found in the summer.  Sure, there is watermelon available other times of the year, but the flavor and texture are usually disappointing (crunchy watermelon, anyone?).

Growing up, we always had watermelon in the summer, usually the elongated oval type.  My dad had the honors of cutting the melon slices. He always took a triangular plug out of the melon first, and tasted it before cutting to see if it was OK. He would always say “it’s really bad” as a joke, but then proceeded to cut it up and serve it.

When it was watermelon eating time, we were sent outside to the picnic table to eat. And spit the seeds at each other. The poor kids nowadays will never know the joy of picking those darn seeds out of the watermelon,  “shooting” them by squeezing them with forefinger and thumb, or just spitting them out.

Some fun facts about watermelon from Food Lover’s Companion and other sources: 
  • Watermelons are native to Africa. 
  • One cup cubed watermelon contains 48 calories, 11 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 1 gram protein, and 0 grams fat.   
  • Watermelons contain a fair amount of vitamins A, C, and iron.
  • Some people in Asia eat the roasted watermelon seeds. One quarter cup of watermelon seed contains 158 calories, 8 grams protein, 13 grams fat, 3 grams carbohydrate and 1 gram fiber. 
  • Some people puree watermelon pulp and drink it.  A few years back, one of my husband’s co-workers, newly in the U.S. from Taiwan, shared 18 watermelons with her two daughters one summer because it was such a treat. They pureed most of it. 
  • A ripe melon sounds like a hollow “thump” when slapped on the side; the rind should be dull, not shiny. 
  • Don’t buy cut melon that has grainy or dry-looking flesh. 
  • Always wash the rind of any melon prior to slicing it open to avoid contamination. 
  • Store watermelon in the refrigerator if possible and use within a week. 
  • Cut watermelon should always be tightly wrapped, refrigerated and used within a day or so for best flavor.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Tidbit: Nutrition Facts Panel on the bottom?

Why do they do it? Why do food manufacturers put Nutrition Facts panels on the bottom of a package?

These are warehouse store-sized boxes of Cheerios and Kashi wheat squares, with all sorts of room to put the Nutrition info on the side of the box. But it is on the bottom. Do they think people don’t look at these panels?

I can understand why Russell Stover’s and other candy boxes have the nutrition info on the bottom…the manufacturers don’t want to make a big deal about calories of this fun food, and many people don’t really want to think about how many calories they are eating.

But it’s not just calorie counting people who look at these panels. A big part of my job is to teach people to read labels. For people with diabetes, we look at the carbohydrate content of a food portion. For heart disease and high cholesterol, we look at the types of fat in a portion of a food. For allergies, we study the list of ingredients.

So if you really want to know the carbohydrate grams in your cereal, you have to turn the box upside down. No big deal, right? But if the cereal has already been opened, and isn’t securely closed, you can make a huge mess (and may have to toss the part that hits the floor).

Hey Costco, Sam’s Club and other warehouse stores: Can’t you twist the arm of manufacturers and let them know that many of your members would be happier if the food label info was on the side, not the bottom?  Rant over. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

What's for Dinner: Italian Pasta and Vegetable Salad

When it’s hot out, I think cold salads. This is a variation of a recipe I first tried at my sister Joyce’s place. It’s easy to add and subtract items depending on what’s in the pantry, garden and the refrigerator. It’s also a great salad to make ahead and have it ready for you when you get home from a busy day.

What makes it Italian? The Italian dressing and the Italian herb-seasoned diced tomatoes. And a side benefit of using canned tomatoes: They add moisture so you don’t have to use so much dressing (thus saving calories without sacrificing flavor).

Recipe: Italian Pasta and Vegetable Salad

1 pound corkscrew pasta
1/2 cup Italian dressing (I used fat-free Wishbone)
1 28-ounce can Italian-seasoned diced tomatoes
4-6 tablespoons McCormick Salad Supreme seasoning
Fresh vegetables of choice. I used:
            1 large English cucumber, unpeeled, cut
            1 small red bell pepper, diced large
            1/2 yellow bell pepper, diced large
            1 green bell pepper, diced large
            4 green onions, trimmed and sliced
            (Other vegetable options include broccoli florets, cauliflower florets)
1 cup black olives, sliced in half
Optional: Cubed ham, pepperoni or summer sausage

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water until pasta is cold. Meanwhile, in very large bowl, pour Italian dressing, diced tomatoes, salad seasoning; stir to combine. Add cucumber, peppers, onions and cold pasta. Gently stir to combine ingredients. Chill (flavors blend best if chilled at least 2 hours; overnight is even better). 

Makes about 14 cups pasta salad.
Nutrition information per one cup:  177 calories, 6 grams protein, 3 grams fat, 31 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber, 1 milligram cholesterol, 431 milligrams sodium.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Tidbit: Is Chocolate Really a Healthy Food?

Some of the good stuff. But 70% cocoa is all you need for benefits.

Once in awhile I hear someone say they don’t like chocolate. I’m not one of those people. (Hint: Buy dark if you’re getting me a present.)

If you listen to or read the news, often the reporters talk about how chocolate is good for your heart because of the great antioxidants, great type of fat, etc. But is that really true?

The answer is Yes and No.

Chocolate definitely has it’s good points:
  • It contains antioxidants (flavanols), which are thought to be the substances responsible for many health-related benefits.
  • It can help reduce blood pressure and LDL cholesterol.
  • It can boost your mood.
  • It comes from a plant (so it fits with a plant-based diet, right?)
  • It makes most everything taste better

 And of course, chocolate has a down side:
  • It has calories- you have to count them in.
  • It is hard to stop eating!
  • Milk chocolate and white chocolate doesn’t count; the dark chocolate has the most benefit. (And white chocolate is not even a contender; it does not contain cocoa solids, the beneficial part of chocolate.  White chocolate is made from cocoa fat, other types of fat, milk and sugar.)

Some of the science behind chocolate’s benefits is found in research studies, such as this one in the Archives of Internal Medicine, published March 26, 2012.

More of the good stuff.

So what can you do to include this great food in your diet?
My suggestion is to plan it into your day. I know, it sounds boring, but paying attention to calories has it’s rewards (like, you’ll fit into your clothes next week and next month).

Some of the studies had participants eat an ounce of dark chocolate a day to see benefits.  What is the equivalent of an ounce of dark chocolate?
  • About 150 calories
  • 3 tablespoons of dark chocolate chips
  • 3 squares Lindt dark chocolate (one-quarter 3.5 ounce bar)  
  • 4 squares Dove dark 

So there you have it. A fun food with benefits.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Q & A: Homemade low-sugar jam for diabetes

Photo courtesy of USDA and National Center for Home Food Preservation

Q:   Is there a way to make homemade jam for family members with diabetes? M.P. Grandville, MI

A:   Summer is a great time to take advantage of the fresh local fruit, and preserving them for winter eating.  Yes, there are a number of options for making low-sugar jam from fresh seasonal fruit.   According to Michigan State University Extension, making low-sugar types of jams and jellies is a different process and requires specific recipes. It usually does not work to “wing it” and use regular pectin with less sugar, because the jam will not turn out. Food science (chemistry) is a balance between ingredients.  Bet you never thought of your kitchen as a food laboratory, did you?
Here are the options for making low-sugar jams:

Option 1:  Buy the “low sugar” or “light” pectin at the grocery store, and follow the directions on the package insert for best results. This is a different type of pectin (low methoxyl) that thickens jam with a lot less sugar.  In our area, I have seen a light version of Sure Jel and Mrs. Wage’s pectin.  In my opinion, this method has the best flavor.

Option 2: Use regular pectin and add an artificial sweetener.  Use the recipe in the regular pectin for this and follow directions. Some artificial sweeteners such as aspartame do not retain their sweetness in a mixture like this for more than three to four months; don’t plan on it for long-term storage.

Option 3: Use unflavored gelatin as a thickener, by following specific recipes (a couple of recipes using this method are available from the National Center for Home Food Preservation website). This jam must be kept refrigerated.

Option 4:  Boiling or simmering fruit pulp until it thickens and resembles jam. This is similar to the traditional way apple butter is made.

These types of jams have about 5 grams carbohydrate per tablespoon.  Even though you may still be using sugar in the low-sugar jams, it is significantly less sugar, and the carbohydrate content is similar to the light jams available at the grocery store.

Remember, there is also carbohydrate (natural sugar) in the fruit itself, so even if you opted to make a jam with no added sugar, you cannot call it carbohydrate-free or sugar-free.

For those of you who have no time or desire to make your own low-sugar jam, there are some nice options available at the grocery store. I have seen store brand “all fruit” spreads, Smucker’s low-sugar jam, and others. We like the E.D. Smith brand of “More Fruit” preserves (half the calories of regular preserves) found at Costco. There are 6 grams of carbohydrate in one tablespoon (compared to 13 in standard jam).

Saturday, June 16, 2012

What's for Dinner: Asparagus Red Pepper Frittata

Sauteing the vegetables in a little olive oil.
Did you ever wonder what the word "frittata" meant? I assumed it was something like "flat omelet" but it turns out it is just an Italian omelet. It's a good way to use up bits of vegetables.

I had never made a frittata with asparagus, but with a few stalks left from my farmer's market haul this week, I gave it a try. 
Beaten eggs added to vegetables, and sprinkled with a little salt and fresh ground black pepper.

After the frittata was flipped and done. Yum.
Recipe: Asparagus and Red Pepper Frittata
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/3 to 1/2 pound fresh asparagus, cut in 1-inch pieces
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1-2 green onions, sliced
4-5 eggs, beaten
Salt and pepper to taste

In large non-stick pan, sauté asparagus, red pepper and green onion in olive oil for about 3 minutes. Add beaten egg. Turn heat to medium to slowly cook the eggs (I covered mine for about 2 minutes to speed up the process). Once the eggs are nearly set, it's time to flip the eggs. You can either flip the whole thing into another heated pan, or do like I do: Cut the fritatta in quarters and flip each quarter into the same pan to finish the cooking (maybe one minute more).

Nutritional analysis per one-quarter frittata: 122 calories, 9 grams protein, 9 grams fat, 2 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 264 milligrams cholesterol, 153 milligrams sodium.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Tidbit: Bell Peppers in Color; What's the Difference?

Did you ever wonder why bell peppers come in different colors? Or if there is any nutritional difference between the various colored peppers?
All fruits and vegetables derive their color from a variety of phytochemicals (plant chemicals). According to Robert L. Wolke in his book, “What Einstein Told His Cook 2”, plant colors can be classified into three main groups; the chlorophylls, carotenoids, and flavonoids (including anthocyanins and anthooxanthins).
Chlorophylls are green compounds containing magnesium. When a green vegetable is overcooked, that pretty green goes away, turning into olive green.
Carotenoids range in color from yellow to orange to red. Beta carotene is the substance used by the body to make vitamin A.
Anthocyanins are water-soluble pigments that are responsible for the blue, purple and dark red colors in plant tissue.

So what does that have to do with colored bell peppers? For one thing, you can find almost any color of bell peppers, such as red, orange, yellow, purple and brown, and of course, green.  The nice variety of colors can make a dish attractive (such as using many colors of pepper, sautéed for fajitas, or adding chopped colored peppers to potatoes, omelets or salads). 

Trivia: Did you know a red bell pepper is actually a green pepper that has been ripened longer on the plant?  Compared to a green pepper, a red pepper is a lot sweeter with very little bitterness. 

Nutrition-wise, green peppers contain about 60 milligrams of vitamin C per pepper, while the red have 94 milligrams and yellow have 112 milligrams vitamin C. As you may suspect from the color, the red peppers are the beta carotene winner, giving it about 116  r.e. of vitamin A, while the green and yellow pepper have 10 or less.

All the bell peppers run about 15 to 20 calories per pepper, and are considered a “free food” on many weight loss plans and for the diabetes meal plan.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Tidbit: Phone app for Food Safety and Storage

 I just learned of a phone app designed for the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and the University of Iowa Cooperative Extension Services.  It is called 4Day Throw Away, “Protecting You from Bad Leftovers”.  It is based on food storage and food safety information from the USDA.

It has lots of functions, including:
  • Tracking your leftovers and take-out food (and setting a throw-away reminder alarm)
  • Learning how long to store any food, whether in the refrigerator, freezer or cupboard
  • Special information about a food (such as, freezing cheese changes the texture)
  • What bacteria are most likely to cause problems with a particular food (and details about symptoms of food poisoning from that bacteria). 

It costs 99 cents from the iTunes App store, which seems quite reasonable for all the good info contained in the app.

Food categories covered include Baby Food, Bakery Goods and Mixes, Beef, Pork and Meat Dishes, Beverages, Cereal and Pasta, Dairy (including Breast Milk), Eggs and Egg Dishes, Fruits, Leftovers and Take-Out, Other Foods, Poultry and Poultry Dishes, Spices, Herbs, Condiments and Extracts, Vegetables, and Wild Game.

Just for fun, I looked up a few foods. I always wondered how long to keep dry coffee creamer. You see, I have had the same bottle in my cupboard for at least 5 years.  I didn’t think much about it, because to me, it’s a non-food, and should never spoil, right?  Only one person uses it (my brother Matt); everyone else drinks black coffee.  I probably shouldn’t have gotten such a big jar, but it was on sale!

Anyway, the 4 Day Throw Away app told me that powdered coffee creamer or whitener (under Beverages) is good for about 8 months, and to keep it cool and dry. Well, it’s time I got some fresh stuff, wouldn’t you say? Matt will be pleased.