Bake Some Memories

Photo by Lunar courtesy of

“Should I put it in this bowl or that bowl?” my son asked. He was 13 at the time.“Add to this bowl,” I replied, pointing at the stainless steel mixing bowl.

“Are you sure? You’re not talking about that bowl, are you?” he asked with a grin.

“Do I use this teaspoon or that one?” my then 10-year-old daughter added with a giggle.

I was getting the picture. Perhaps I was being a bit too “directive” as I taught my kids how to measure and bake.

“Mom, what’s a sifter?” my son asked as he perused an old recipe.

I almost said, “Do you mean this sifter or that sifter?”

I found the sifter and showed him how to use it. Then he patted the sifted flour into a measuring cup with a spoon.

“You really don’t need to sift flour as long as you do not pack it into a cup. If you pack it down, you will have too much flour in your recipe. It might get somewhat dry. Because we are using a sifter today, let’s measure it again,” I replied.

I poured the flour back into the sifter.

My son said nothing. He looked at me sideways, though, as he sifted the flour again.

This time he spooned the flour into a measuring cup and scraped off the excess with a knife. When he measured it the second time, he noted the extra flour on the waxed paper.

Seeing was believing, I hope.

We enjoyed many baked goods, including buns, cookies, muffins and cake the week and a half they had no school because of the flooding situation that particular year. For sure, we weren’t short on calories, but I hope both kids were gathering some lifetime skills.

Unfortunately, many young adults emerge from childhood without some basic cooking and baking skills. Cooking has become a spectator sport. We all can watch cooking shows, read cooking magazines and play games about food on hand-held computers.

As we know, watching people play basketball does not necessarily build our athletic skills. Watching other people cook and bake does not necessarily build our culinary skills, either.

A few years ago, the Betty Crocker Kitchens sponsored a national survey of 1,500 adults. About 70 percent of the respondents rated their knowledge as “above average,” but just 38 percent scored “above average” on the 20-point quiz.

The Betty Crocker Kitchens also surveyed 1,000 kids ages 10 to 17. Every respondent knew how to play a computer game, but just 41 percent knew how to use a blender to make a fruit smoothie.

Try a few questions from the quiz given to the adults to see how you do.

1. How many teaspoons are in 1 tablespoon?
a. 2
b. 3
c. 4

2. One stick of butter is equal to:
a. 1/4 cup
b. 1/3 cup
c. 1/2 cup
d. 1 cup

3. How much uncooked rice is needed to yield 1 cup of cooked rice?
a. 1/3 cup
b. 1/2 cup
c. 3/4 cup
d. 1 cup

4. You would use a Dutch oven when preparing which of the following?
a. Lasagna
b. Cake
c. Beef stew

The answers:

1. b.
2. c.
3. a.
4. c.

For a free online cookbook and many fact sheets with recipes, visit Click on “For Parents.” The “Now Serving” handout series includes publications about cooking with kids and teens.

Here’s a simple recipe that will appeal to all ages:


1 Tbsp. yeast
1/2 c. warm water
1 tsp. honey
1 1/3 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
Toppings of choice

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. In a small bowl, combine yeast, water and honey. Let it sit for five minutes. In a medium bowl, mix the flour and salt together. After five minutes, add the yeast mixture to the flour and salt and mix well. (Mixture will be slightly crumbly.) Place the dough on a cutting board and knead it into a big ball. Break off 12 pieces of dough about the size of a big gumball and roll each one into a skinny snake. Twist the dough into a pretzel shape (or any shape you want). Bake for 10 minutes or until lightly browned.

Serve with warmed spaghetti sauce or honey mustard. For a sweet treat, you can brush with a light coat of butter and dip in cinnamon and sugar.

Makes 12 servings. Each one-pretzel serving has 50 calories, 0 grams (g) of fat, 11 g of carbohydrate and 2 g of protein.



Unusual Containers Not Always Safe

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“Is it OK to use brown paper grocery bags to prepare snacks? I’d like to use one to shake powdered sugar on a cereal snack. I’ve heard you can cook in them, too. Is that right?”“Is it safe to make omelets by boiling the egg mixture in a Ziploc bag? I want to make them for a camping trip.”

“Is it safe to use terra cotta flower pots for baking bread and cakes? The cakes look so cute in these containers!”

“I have a brand new galvanized garbage can. It has never held trash. Can I use it to serve punch?”

I could go on and on with the questions I’ve received through the years about various unusual containers used to prepare, cook and serve food. The questions especially seem to pop up in the spring as people plan parties or head out to campsites.

The No. 1 rule for answering any of these questions is to consider the original purpose for the container. Was the container meant to prepare or serve food, with the food in direct contact with the container?

Containers that are “food grade” must meet higher standards for sanitation and safety.

Let’s consider each of the containers mentioned in the opening questions and the potential food safety issues.

  • Brown paper grocery bags: Yes, brown paper grocery bags are intended to hold food. However, the food typically placed in brown paper bags is in packages or containers. Grocery bags are not a sanitary container for mixing or coating snacks with powdered sugar.

Instead, use a bowl or a zip-type plastic bag.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture does not recommend using grocery bags for cooking, either. The bag may ignite and cause a fire in the oven. The ink, glue and recycled materials can emit toxic fumes.

Use oven cooking bags or a pan instead.

  • Plastic bags: Boiling omelets in a Ziploc bag has been something of a fad the last few years. When I first received the question, I directly contacted a staff member at the company’s consumer help line.

The company representative told me that Ziploc brand bags cannot be used to boil food. The bags are made from polyethylene plastic with a softening point of about 195 degrees. Therefore, they could melt when exposed to 212 degrees.

Some companies produce “boilable” plastic bags that can be used to cook foods. Read the manufacturer’s statement to learn about their suggested use.

Don’t push the limits.

  • Terra cotta flowerpots: Some clay containers are designed for food use. However, clay pots from the gardening center are not meant to be in direct contact with food. The clay in garden pots may contain heavy metals, such as lead. Some may crack or break in the oven, too.

If you completely line a clay pot with food-grade material, such as aluminum foil, you can use it to serve food. Better yet, before serving food in it, line the pot with a smaller container from your kitchen cabinet.

  • Galvanized trashcans, plastic trashcans or any type of trashcan: If you were going to a party, would you really want to eat or drink from something meant to hold garbage?

Obviously, trashcans were not meant to serve food, so the plastic or metal used to make them is not food grade. Chemicals from the plastic or metal may leach into the food. Acidic foods, such as punch, can pull harmful chemicals from the container into the beverage.

Watch for seasonal fruits and vegetables at your grocery store. Many come into season just in time for parties and outdoor picnics. Here’s a tasty recipe making use of strawberries. Serve as a snack or as a side dish with grilled chicken or fish.

Fruit Salsa

1 c. diced strawberries
1 diced banana
1 peeled and diced kiwi
1 cored and diced apple
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cinnamon

Wash and prepare fruit as indicated. Gently combine in a bowl and add lemon juice. Combine sugar and spices in a separate dish. Add to fruit and gently toss.

Makes four servings. Each serving has 120 calories, 0 grams (g) of fat, 31 g of carbohydrate and 3 g of fiber.

Welcome Spring With Brisk Walks

“Mom, I need new shoes. It’s been two years since I had new shoes!” my daughter exclaimed as we walked around our neighborhood. She was 9 at the time.

We were trying to reach a walking program goal of 10,000 steps using our pedometers, or step counters. That’s equal to about five miles of walking during the course of a day.

“I think you might be exaggerating. I bought the shoes you are wearing last fall, so that’s more like six months. Spring is a good time for new walking shoes, though. What kind of shoes would you like?” I asked.

“I want ones that keep the water and bugs out,” she said, looking down at her well-worn shoes.

“Have you been having problems with bugs getting in your shoes lately?” I teased as we walked by a few remaining small piles of snow.

“No, I’m thinking about this summer,” she replied with a grin.

We passed numerous walkers that evening who also were enjoying the warmer weather. I wondered if they knew about a study about the benefits of moderate physical activity and longevity.

According to a study reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine, people who get regular, moderate activity, such as walking 30 minutes a day, may live 1.3 years longer than those with a very low level of physical activity. They also may enjoy an additional 1.1 years without heart disease, compared with sedentary people.

According to other studies, regular physical activity helps prevent diabetes, obesity and osteoporosis. Walking also reduces stress and improves sleep and overall mood.

These are some amazing benefits for the price of a pair of shoes and a little time. Consider these tips as you welcome spring.

  • Be sure your walking shoes fit properly. Shop for shoes late in the day when your feet may be a little larger. Measure both feet, and be sure you have a thumbnail’s width (about one-half inch) between the tip of your longest toe and the edge of the shoe.
  • Wear appropriate socks when you try on shoes, and try on more than one size and brand. The shoes should fit comfortably but not feel so loose that your feet slide forward. Your heel should not slip up and down. Try on both shoes and walk awhile.
  • When you have your shoes and you’re ready to walk, be sure to warm up before you begin. Do some static stretching, a continuous stretch to the point where you feel a slight pull. Start out walking slowly for the first five minutes or so.
  • Pace yourself if you haven’t been physically active for a while. In fact, consider discussing physical activity with your physician or other health-care provider before you begin.
  • Take the talk test. If you can’t talk while you are exercising, slow down. If you feel pain, dizziness or nausea, stop right away.
  • Stay well-hydrated. Bring a water bottle and sip regularly.

By the way, I bought new shoes for my walking companion so we could meet our goals without sore feet. Maybe I need a new pair of shoes, too.

Visit and for more information about fitness and nutrition.

Here’s a tasty, portable and refreshing snack to enjoy during or after a walk.

Yogurt Pops

6 ounces plain or flavored low-fat or nonfat yogurt
3/4 cup 100 percent fruit juice of choice

Whip yogurt and juice together until smooth. Pour into Popsicle molds, paper cups or ice cube trays. Insert Popsicle sticks or toothpicks into each pop. Cover container with plastic wrap and poke through if needed. Freeze until solid.

Flavor ideas: vanilla yogurt with raspberry juice, lemon yogurt with orange juice

Makes four servings. Each serving has 59 calories, less than 1 gram (g) of fat and 12 g of carbohydrate.


Floods of the Past Remind Us of Internal and External Water Balance

photo by dodgertonskillhause courtesy of

“Water! Water! Who wants some water?” the young man called out.

At first, I thought he was making a joke. I looked up from tying a sandbag among the millions of sandbags being used to fight rising floodwater a few years ago in our area.

“We have too much water already!” I thought to myself.

Then I saw the case of small bottles of water he was carrying. I gratefully grabbed a bottle of water and took a little break. I was getting thirsty.

Drinking a bottle of water in the midst of a flood made me think of the delicate balance that must be maintained in our bodies and environment.

We need a safe source of water for survival, but we need boundaries on water in the environment and our bodies. The human body is made up of about 60 percent water, with some variability based on age and other factors.

In the human body, water helps regulate body temperature, protects tissues, transports nutrients and carries out wastes. We can survive without food longer than without water.

The recommendation that we need eight glasses of “plain” water a day to stay hydrated has changed. All beverages and most foods contain water and it all counts toward keeping us hydrated.

We actually can “flood” our bodies with too much water. Although rare, drinking too much water in a short time can result in water intoxication and “hyponatremia” (literally, low sodium level in the blood).

The resulting electrolyte (sodium and potassium) imbalance from water intoxication can lead to disorientation and dizziness. It can progress to seizures, coma and, potentially, death.

According to research, healthy people usually can use thirst to gauge their needs. The fluid intake of athletes, the elderly, young children and people with medical conditions may need to be monitored more closely.

The good news for coffee drinkers: Caffeinated beverages are not dehydrating as was once believed. They count toward our fluid needs, too, although the special coffee drinks may contribute lots of excess calories. Enjoy 100 percent juice and milk to get your nutrients.

For nutrition and hydration, enjoy more fruits and vegetables. They are about 85 percent water by weight.

To save some money, drink municipal water at home and restaurants. It has a cost advantage over bottled water: It’s free.

In times of disaster, however, municipal water and water from private wells can become contaminated with sewage, chemicals and other substances. If that ever is the case, listen to local authorities to find out if the tap water is safe. Flooded private wells need to be tested.

You may have to use bottled water, or you may need to boil the water or treat it with chemicals before using it for cooking, cleaning and bathing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, bringing water to a rolling boil for 1 minute kills most organisms. Chemical contamination, however, is not removed by boiling, so you will need an alternate water source.

Visit for more information about nutrition and health. Sign up for the free monthly e-newsletter.

All this information about water has made me thirsty. We all could use a little more sunshine this spring, so here’s a refreshing calcium-rich beverage recipe courtesy of the Midwest Dairy Association at

Sunshine Smoothie

2 c. fat-free milk
2 c. low-fat or nonfat lemon yogurt
1/2 c. ice cubes
3 Tbsp. sugar-sweetened, powdered lemonade drink mix
lemon wedge or zest (optional)

In a blender, combine all ingredients and blend until mixture is smooth and creamy. Pour into glasses and garnish each glass with lemon wedge or zest, if desired.

Makes four servings. Each serving has 180 calories, 2 grams (g) of fat, 10 g protein, 32 g of carbohydrate, 140 milligrams (mg) of sodium and 300 mg of calcium.


Weight-loss and Shaping Garments Sprout in the Spring

Courtesy of

“Sure, I’ll have a sample of white tea,” I said to the salesman at an evening event. He filled my cup to the brim.Unfortunately, I didn’t realize it was spiked with caffeine. I should have gotten a clue when the salesman referred to it as an “energy drink.”

I was so energized I couldn’t sleep that night no matter how many times I told myself to fall sleep. Bleary-eyed, I wandered into our living room and turned on the TV.

When I grew tired of watching reruns from the 1970s, I began watching infomercials. As I flipped through the stations, various diets and exercise devices were being hyped, just in time for spring.

At about 2 a.m., I began watching an infomercial about a corsetlike “shaper” undergarment designed to mold you into a slimmer shape. I was hoping to be bored to sleep.

A series of women modeled unflattering knit tops. The models lamented about their tummy and back bulges to a sympathetic host who measured their waist circumferences and announced them on national TV.

I certainly hope the models were paid well.

Then they put on the tight undergarments and were measured again. They had shrunk by 4 or 5 inches and their ramrod-straight posture was quite amazing. They appeared to be able to breathe, too.

Instead of being bored, I ended up thinking about waist circumferences and body mass index, and their role in health.

Studies have shown that excess visceral fat, or “belly fat,” places you at higher risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, some types of cancer and dementia.

Body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference, respectively, often are used to determine weight status and body fat distribution. BMI may overestimate body fat in athletes and underestimate body fat in older people.

Do you have a calculator and a tape measure or length of string and a ruler? Try these techniques that are used in research to estimate weight status and risk for certain diseases. Visit with a health-care professional to assess your overall health, though.

Use a calculator to determine your BMI: Multiply your weight in pounds by 703. Then divide the total by your height in inches. Divide this total by your height in inches (again).

A BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is in the healthy range. A person with a BMI of 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight and a person with a BMI of 30 or more is considered obese.

Despite the widespread use of BMI, however, some researchers have reported that waist circumference may be more important for determining your risk of disease and premature death than your BMI.

Use a tape measure or a length of string and ruler to measure your waist circumference. Place the tape measure around your bare abdomen just above your hipbone. Be sure the tape is snug but does not compress your skin. Keep it parallel to the floor. Relax, exhale and measure. If using a string, measure the length of string corresponding to your waist circumference using a ruler.

In a study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, men with waist circumferences of 40 inches or more and women with waists measuring 35 inches or more were at higher risk of dying prematurely.

If either of the activities was an eye-opener, don’t rely on a “girdle” for slimming purposes. Let the warmer spring weather inspire you to get more physical activity, such as walking. Pay attention to your portion sizes and the calorie content of your favorite foods.

See the “finding the truth” information at for more information about determining the credibility of resources.

Here’s a tasty salad to go with a grilled burger or chicken breast.

Broccoli-raisin Salad

2 Tbsp. lemon juice
3/4 c. low-fat mayonnaise
2 Tbsp. sugar
6 c. chopped broccoli
1 c. raisins
1 medium peeled and diced red onion
4 cooked and crumbled bacon slices (optional)

Mix lemon juice, mayonnaise and sugar. Add other ingredients and mix. Chill for at least two hours.

Makes eight servings. With bacon, each serving has 230 calories, 27 grams (g) of carbohydrate, 13 g of fat, 3 g of fiber and 310 milligrams (mg) of sodium. Without the bacon, each serving has 180 calories, 27 g of carbohydrate, 8 g of fat, 3 g of fiber and 220 mg of sodium.


Is Sneaking Food Into Kids’ Diets a Good Idea?

“I tried something new for dinner. I thought I’d sneak in some nutrition,” my husband said one day.

I could see our pasta press on the counter. A bubbling pot of noodles was simmering on the stove.

“I used a package of spinach, semolina flour and a little water to make this pasta,” he explained.

I peeked in the pot. The noodles were a brilliant shade of emerald green.

“That’s pretty sneaky. Do you think our kids will notice the spinach?” I teased.

He looked at me and grinned. Although I don’t think my husband fully appreciated my teasing, he was pleased when our children ate the noodles. I think we will be having emerald green pasta more often.

A couple of authors have had best-selling books about sneaking vegetables into kids’ diets. Usually, the book authors puree the vegetables and place them in foods, such as spaghetti sauce, where they are barely noticeable.

Although the books became best sellers, sneaking vegetables into kids’ diets has been the subject of mixed responses from nutrition experts.

Certainly, vegetables are low-calorie, nutrient-rich foods, so encouraging children and adults to eat more veggies makes sense. Eating more vegetables may help with weight management and help prevent chronic diseases, such as cancer and heart disease.

Researchers at Penn State University and Baylor College of Medicine put the “stealth vegetable” concept to the test. They served 61 preschoolers one of two pasta dishes on several separate occasions. One pasta sauce included added broccoli and cauliflower, which had been chopped in a food processor, while the other sauce had no veggies.

The good news: The children liked each pasta dish and ate about the same amount regardless of whether the pasta sauce had added vegetables. The dish with the added vegetables had fewer calories.

The children cut their calorie intake by 17 percent when they ate the veggie-containing pasta dish compared with the no-veggie pasta dish.

However, should parents always camouflage minced vegetables in a blanket of spaghetti sauce or puree spinach into brownies to help kids meet their veggie recommendations?

Kathleen Leahy, one of the Penn State researchers, recommended that parents eat vegetables with their children and serve plain vegetables regularly so children develop a taste for them.

Sneaking vegetables into a child’s diet has been questioned by some parenting and child feeding experts. Child feeding experts encourage choices for children. If children do not want to eat the food, do not force the issue. Otherwise, food can become a battle of the wills.

They also encourage patience among parents when introducing vegetables into a child’s diet. Getting a child to try a new food, such as a new vegetable, may take 10 to 15 attempts.

Perhaps the best advice is to be a good role model and provide a variety of vegetables for yourself and others around you. After all, children are not the only ones shortchanging themselves on vegetables. Most adults need to eat more vegetables to meet their daily recommendation, which is about 2.5 to 3 cups.

For more information about a healthful diet, visit

Try this not-so-sneaky spinach and pasta recipe courtesy of Iowa State University.

Spinach-stuffed Pasta Shells

10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed
12-ounce carton low-fat cottage cheese
1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese (save 1/2 cup for topping)
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
26-ounce jar or can of spaghetti sauce
1 cup water
8-ounce package uncooked large pasta shells

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly coat a 13- by 9- by 2-inch baking dish with cooking spray and then set aside. Drain spinach by placing in a sieve set over your sink or in a bowl and pressing with a spoon to remove as much liquid as possible or squeeze out liquid with clean hands. Place spinach in medium bowl. Add the cottage cheese, 1 cup of the mozzarella cheese, oregano, and pepper to the spinach. Stir to mix thoroughly. Pour half of the spaghetti sauce into prepared baking dish. Add water and stir to mix. Spoon about 3 tablespoons cheese mixture into each uncooked pasta shell and arrange in a single layer over sauce. Pour remaining sauce over top. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese evenly over sauce. Cover tightly with foil. Bake for 1 hour or until shells are tender. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Makes eight servings. Each servings has 280 calories, 37 grams (g) of carbohydrate, 7 g of fat, 5 g of fiber and 370 milligrams of sodium.

Try Economical, Versatile Pasta for Dinner

photo by alivmann courtesy of morguefile

Boil. Drain. Serve. Even after a long day, most of us can manage the cooking directions for pasta.

Not only is preparing pasta easy, but pasta also is an economical and versatile menu item. In challenging economic times, consumers stretch their food dollars with pasta-based casseroles and soups more often.

Most American pasta is made from durum wheat, which is milled to form semolina. A dough is prepared by mixing semolina with water. The dough is extruded through a die (a metal disc with holes in it) under pressure and cut to the appropriate length.

The size and shape of the holes in the die determine the shape of the pasta. Shapes ranging from spirals to cartoon characters are possible. Finally, the pasta is dried and packaged.

Sometimes other ingredients are added. Products labeled “egg noodles,” for example, must contain 5.5 percent egg by weight.

Pasta is fortified with iron and B vitamins. The B vitamin folic acid can lower the risk for certain birth defects, so it’s an especially important nutrient for women of child-bearing age.

Pasta manufacturers also are adding “better for you” pasta varieties to their product lines. These include whole-grain pasta and pasta with added fiber or other nutrients.

On Nutrition Facts labels, 1 cup of cooked pasta is considered a typical serving size. At 200 calories, 1 cup of cooked pasta has the same number of calories as two slices of bread.

Next time you prepare pasta, fill a 1-cup measuring cup with cooked pasta. Place it on a plate and remember this image when you size up your servings.

Chances are you will receive three or more servings of pasta on your plate when you eat pasta at a restaurant. You may want to ask for a to-go box at the start of your meal so you get two meals for the price of one.

Consider your serving sizes, but think about your preferred pasta sauce, too. White sauces, such as Alfredo sauce, are much higher in fat and calories than most red sauces. One-half cup of tomato-based spaghetti/marinara sauce has about 110 calories and 3 grams of fat. Restaurant-style Alfredo sauce has about 300 calories and 28 grams of fat per half-cup serving.

Have you decided on tomorrow’s dinner menu? Be sure not to overcook the pasta. Here’s some advice from the National Pasta Association:

  • For every pound of pasta to cook, allow at least 4 quarts of water.
  • Bring water to a boil before adding the pasta. (Adding salt is optional. Skipping adding salt is advisable from a nutrition standpoint.)
  • Return water to a boil and time according to the package directions. If you are making a baked dish, such as lasagna, slightly undercook the pasta by one-third of the cooking time.
  • Remove a piece of pasta and taste test. While some people literally throw pasta strands against the wall to test doneness, save on your walls. Pasta is best cooked “al dente,” literally “to the tooth.” Remove a piece of pasta from the pan and taste. The pasta should be somewhat firm when you bite.
  • Drain pasta. You do not need to rinse pasta unless you want to cool it prior to adding it to a salad.

Try this easy-to-make recipe courtesy of Iowa State University.

Skillet Spinach Lasagna

1/2 pound lean ground beef
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced (or 1/4 tsp. garlic powder)
3 c. spaghetti sauce (26 to 28 ounces)
1 c. water
8 ounces wide noodles
1 (10-ounce) package chopped spinach, thawed
1 (12-ounce) container low-fat or fat-free cottage cheese
1/2 c. (4 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese
Optional: fresh or canned, drained sliced mushrooms

Cook ground beef, onions and garlic together in a large skillet or electric frying pan. Stir to prevent sticking. Drain the fat. Add spaghetti sauce and water to skillet and bring to a boil. Add uncooked noodles, stir, cover with lid, turn down the heat and cook five minutes. Squeeze the thawed spinach with your clean hands to remove the juice and then stir into the pan. Add mushrooms if you like. Cover and simmer for five minutes. Spoon cottage cheese over the top. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese, put the lid on and let it heat another five to 10 minutes until heated through and noodles are tender.

Makes eight servings. Each serving has 270 calories, 36 grams (g) of carbohydrate, 5 g of fat and 2 g of fiber.


Try Energy-saving Appliances in Your Kitchen

photo by Gracey courtesy

As I admired my fairly new stainless steel oven the other day, I remembered a conversation from a few years ago that preceded our investment in a new oven.

“How was your day?” I asked my husband one day.

“It was interesting,” he said, sounding a little exasperated.

I could sense bad news on the horizon, but he started with the good news.

“I baked some bread. It turned out great,” he announced.

“That sounds good. So, what else happened?” I asked, bracing myself.

“The glass fell out of the oven door,” he said matter-of-factly.

I’m sure my eyes widened at that nonchalant comment.

“Is the bread OK?” I asked.

I guess I should have asked him if he was OK, but I could see that he wasn’t covered with bandages.

“The bread is fine. The oven door handle broke off, too. Everything can be fixed, though,” he added, rather quickly.

I didn’t know what to expect when I walked into the kitchen. I just hoped my husband hadn’t gotten creative or overly frugal with the repair job. Would my white oven have a second-hand avocado green door and a broom handle bolted on it?

Fortunately, that wasn’t the case. Without a door, our oven looked like a mouth waiting to be fed.

Other than having no glass and a broken handle, the oven worked fine, so we didn’t need to invest in a new one immediately. We just needed to fix the door.

While we waited for parts, I discovered how “oven-dependent” I had been. I brought our portable convection oven and other appliances out of storage.

For dinner the next day, we made bread in our bread machine, simmered chili in the slow cooker and baked brownies in our portable convection oven. We fixed the oven and used it a few more years, but eventually we “traded up” for a more energy-efficient oven.

I did a little background research on the energy use of small appliances compared with full-sized appliances and discovered ways to economize our energy consumption.

According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), you can cut oven-related energy use by 20 percent if you use a convection oven instead of a conventional oven. Using a microwave oven instead of a conventional oven can cut energy use by more than 60 percent.

I decided my portable convection oven would spend more time in the kitchen, even if it takes up counter space.

When we decided to upgrade our oven, I paid attention to the labels on appliances, too. The federal government requires most appliances to carry a yellow and black “EnergyGuide” label, which tells you the estimated energy consumption and yearly operating cost.

When selecting new appliances, consider the ones that carry the “Energy Star” label. These products usually exceed federal standards.

Consider these energy-saving tips from the U.S. Department of Energy and ACEEE:

  • Keep range-top burners and reflectors clean. They will reflect heat better and save energy.
  • Match your cooking pots and pans to the burner size. According to the ACEEE, using a 6-inch pan on an 8-inch burner wastes more than 40 percent of the heat produced by the burner.
  • Use electric pans/griddles or toaster ovens for small meals. A toaster oven uses one-third to one-half the energy of a full-sized oven.
  • Reduce cooking time and energy use by using a pressure cooker or microwave oven.
  • Cover the pot when you are boiling water for pasta or other foods.
  • Thaw frozen foods in the refrigerator before cooking.
  • Bake more than one item at a time. For example, bake double portions of food. You can freeze one portion.
  • Avoid peeking in the oven and losing heat. Turn on the oven light and look in.

Learn more at or and stretch your energy dollars throughout your home.

Have you used your slow cooker lately? If not, pull it out of storage and try this easy recipe.

Slow Cooker Spaghetti Sauce

1 pound lean ground beef
1/2 c. chopped green bell pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1(16-ounce) can stewed tomatoes
1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 envelope spaghetti sauce seasoning
1/2 c. chopped onion
1 c. chopped celery
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
2 c. water

Brown meat with onion, pepper and garlic. Drain well and put into slow cooker with remaining ingredients. Cover; cook on high until sauce comes to a boil and then turn to low and simmer for six hours.

Makes 10 servings. Each serving has 160 calories, 6 grams (g) of fat, 12 g of carbohydrate, 2 g of fiber and 730 milligrams of sodium.

Enjoy Comforting, Heart-healthy Oatmeal

Photo by npclark2k courtesy of morguefile

My daughter spotted a canister with a large, red heart on it as she explored our pantry for an appealing breakfast. She was 9 at the time.“Mom, I’d like oatmeal for breakfast,” she said.

“Of course, you can have oatmeal,” I said, happy to oblige.

I showed her how to make oatmeal quickly in the microwave. We used milk instead of water as a nutrition bonus, and she added a sprinkle of brown sugar.

“This is my idea of comfort food,” I said as I placed the steaming bowl in front of her.

I looked out the window at the snow-covered ground as I listened to the morning weather forecast. Temperatures were expected to dip that day to minus 20 degrees.

I decided to make a bowl of oatmeal for me, too. I might as well start out the morning feeling warm and comfortable, I thought to myself.

The foods that are considered “comfort foods” vary from person to person and from one region of the country to another. In the Midwest, warm, creamy mashed potatoes and gravy, hot dish, and mac and cheese come to mind. For others, hot cereal is like a warm security blanket.

Consider adding more oatmeal to your menu. Besides providing a warm, stick-to-your ribs breakfast, oatmeal is good for your heart. In fact, oatmeal packages can carry a heart-health claim because of research that shows its health benefits.

Oats are a whole-grain food. According to the latest recommendations, we should strive to make half of our grain food choices whole-grain foods.

Oats contain two different types of fiber. They have insoluble fiber, which keeps us regular by moving foods through our digestive system, thereby helping prevent constipation.

Oats also provide soluble fiber called beta-glucans. This type of fiber acts like little sponges that pick up cholesterol and carry it out of the body. Adding oats to your diet could reduce your blood cholesterol level, especially LDL or “bad” cholesterol.

For people with high blood cholesterol, nutrition experts recommend 1 1/2 cups of oatmeal (1/2 cup uncooked) daily to help reduce blood cholesterol. Gradually increase your fiber intake and drink plenty of water to prevent upsetting your digestive system.

You can use quick oats and old-fashioned oats interchangeably in recipes. When you use old-fashioned oats, the food will have a chewier, coarser texture. Quick oats are cut smaller, so they cook more quickly. Use instant oatmeal only in recipes that call for it.

If you’d like to enjoy the benefits of oats, but cooked oatmeal is not your favorite, try adding oats to meatloaf or meatballs to increase the fiber. Enjoy oatmeal muffins and cookies.

Give oatmeal another try with this novel breakfast or snack recipe from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Service.

Banana Split Oatmeal

1/3 c. dry oatmeal, quick cooking
1/8 tsp. salt
3/4 c. very hot water

1/2 sliced banana
1/2 c. frozen vanilla yogurt, nonfat
Cinnamon, if desired

In a microwave-safe cereal bowl, mix together the oatmeal and salt. Stir in water. Microwave on high power for one minute and then stir. Microwave on high power for another minute and stir again. Microwave an extra 30 to 60 seconds on high power until the cereal reaches the desired thickness. Stir. Top with frozen vanilla yogurt and banana slices. Sprinkle with cinnamon if desired.

Makes one serving. Each serving has 150 calories, 1 gram (g) of fat, 30 g of carbohydrate and 4 g of fiber.

Don’t Fall Prey to the 5-second Rule

Image by Clarita courtesy of

“Would you like pancakes today?” my daughter asked as I entered our living room. She was 4 at the time.

“Sure, that would be nice. What kind of toppings do you have?” I asked.

“Today we have blueberries, raspberries and strawberries,” she noted as she pointed to an imaginary menu on the wall.

“I’ll have two pancakes with blueberries,” I said.

“We’re all out of blueberries,” she announced.

“OK, I’ll have raspberries,” I said.

“The raspberries fell on the floor. They’re dirty. Really, really dirty!” she exclaimed, wrinkling her nose.

“When was the last time this restaurant was inspected, anyway?” I asked.

“You can have strawberries,” she said, ignoring my question.

“They didn’t fall on the floor, did they?” I asked.

She grinned and left the room to get my food. I’d have to say those were the best imaginary pancakes and strawberries I ever had.

I was happy to hear that my young daughter had not fallen prey to the “five-second rule.” According to this often-quoted rule, you have a few seconds to pluck food from the floor before it becomes contaminated. Think again.

A few years ago, a high school student from Chicago put the rule to the test during an internship at an Illinois university. She surveyed people and learned that women were more likely to eat food that fell on the floor. She also learned that cookies and candy were more likely to be retrieved than vegetables. Imagine that.

She sterilized ceramic tiles, inoculated the tiles with E. coli and then dropped candy or cookies on the tiles. The bad news for food retrievers: Cookies and candy instantly picked up bacteria.

In another test of the famous rule, Clemson University researchers considered the bacteria-transferring properties of several types of flooring, including carpet, wood and tile. The materials were inoculated with salmonella and allowed to stand 24 hours to see if bacteria would survive. The carpet retained the most bacteria, but all the materials retained thousands of bacteria per square centimeter of flooring material.

The researchers dropped bologna and bread on the contaminated flooring material. Within five seconds, the food picked up thousands of bacteria.

Yes, the food that was on the floor longer picked up more bacteria, but don’t take that as evidence to retrieve your cookies, sandwiches or other foods. For some types of bacteria, only a few cells can make you sick.

As we’ve learned from spinach and lettuce recalls, washing doesn’t always get rid of pathogens (disease-causing organisms) on produce. The best advice: Don’t take chances. If you drop food on the floor, toss it in the trash.

Cross-contamination is the transfer of harmful bacteria from surfaces to food or from one food to another. Cross-contamination is one of the leading causes of foodborne illness in the U.S. Consider these tips from the U.S. Department of Agriculture:

  • Use hot, soapy water and paper towels or a clean cloth to wipe up kitchen surfaces or spills. Sanitize kitchen surfaces with a solution of 1 tablespoon of chlorine bleach per gallon of water (less than 1 teaspoon per quart). Wash cloths in the hot cycle of your washing machine.
  • Use clean cutting boards. Use one cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat.
  • Separate meat, poultry and seafood from other foods in your shopping cart and in your shopping bags. Whenever available, place meat packages in the plastic bags before placing them in your cart.
  • Keep raw meat, poultry and seafood in containers or sealed plastic bags on the lowest shelf of your refrigerator to help prevent their juices from dripping on other foods.

Here’s an easy pancake recipe to enjoy with strawberries, blueberries or raspberries.

Buttermilk Pancakes

2 c. buttermilk (or substitute reconstituted dry buttermilk)
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 Tbsp. butter or margarine, melted

Preheat griddle to 375 degrees. Mix buttermilk and eggs together. In separate bowl, stir dry ingredients together (or use a sifter). Stir in buttermilk and egg mixture. Add melted butter and mix. Drop from ladle onto hot griddle, cooking each side about two minutes or until light brown.

Makes four servings. Each serving has 360 calories, 10 grams (g) of fat, 55 g of carbohydrate and 20 percent of the daily recommendation for calcium.