Let’s Bake Some Pumpkin Muffins!

photo_by_lunarFrom the time I could measure baking soda by myself, I was the junior baker in our house. Sometimes, however, my baking creativity wasn’t lapped up by family members.

What’s wrong with blue sugar cookies with orange frosting, anyway? I must admit to a few culinary disasters along the way, but at least no fire trucks were summoned.

Inviting kids into the kitchen to help with baking provides a fun and educational activity to enjoy together. Children can learn about math through measuring and about language through reading the recipes. If siblings are involved, cooperation and conflict resolution skills may be tested and honed. Kids often will try new foods if they helped prepare them. Besides providing a fun learning environment, you’re also building memories.

Unlike cooking which allows for quite a bit of creativity, baking is a science and an art. “A little of this and a little of that” is a method that works in cooking but not in baking. Precise measuring with the right tools and the correct oven temperature will help ensure baking success.

If you haven’t baked in a while or have little baking experience, start with quick breads. They offer a tasty and nutritious diversion from other sweet holiday treats. A fresh loaf of banana or cranberry bread or some muffins make welcome holiday gifts, too.

Quick breads use baking soda or baking powder as the source of carbon dioxide gas which causes the bread to rise quickly in the oven. Yeast breads require much more time to make.

Over-mixing is one of the concerns in making quick breads, so it’s important to just combine the ingredients until they are moistened. Mixing the dough until it is smooth will likely result in tough muffins and breads with air tunnels due to overdevelopment of the protein in the flour or gluten. Over-mixed muffins will have pointed tops, which might be good conversation pieces but won’t earn you a blue ribbon at the county fair.

To cut down on fat and calories in quick breads, try substituting drained applesauce or prune puree for about half of the fat. This substitution works well in banana bread and other quick breads. A half cup of applesauce contains 55 calories and no fat, while a half cup of oil contains about 960 calories and 112 grams fat.

Here’s a tasty pumpkin muffin recipe. Pumpkin is an excellent source of beta-carotene, a pigment that our bodies use to make vitamin A. Vitamin A helps keep skin and tissues healthy, helps our eyes see normally in the dark and works as an antioxidant nutrient that could lower our risk for certain kinds of cancer. Pumpkin also is a good source of fiber, plus it’s naturally low in fat and sodium.

Pumpkin Muffins

2 eggs, beaten
1 c. sugar
1 c. canned pumpkin (or cooked, pureed pumpkin)
1/3 c. canola oil
1/4 c. water
1 2/3 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 c. nuts, chopped (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine eggs, sugar, pumpkin, oil and water in medium-sized mixing bowl. Stir together flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder and spices in a separate bowl. Add dry ingredients to wet, and stir to blend. Place batter 3/4 to the top of non-stick or lightly oiled muffin tins. You may also use cupcake liners. If desired, sprinkle with sugar. Bake 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the middle of muffin comes out clean. Remove from pan right away.

Makes 9 servings. Each serving (without nuts) has Each serving has 260 calories, 9 grams (g) fat, 4 g protein, 41 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 380 milligrams sodium and a full day’s supply of vitamin A (as beta carotene).

Gobble Up Some Turkey during the Holidays

Photo by Anita Peppers courtesy of morguefile.com

Photo by Anita Peppers courtesy of morguefile.com

We’re moving into the holiday season where getting as stuffed as a Thanksgiving turkey becomes a regular event. If we stuff ourselves too much and too often, however, we may add an extra layer of “insulation.” This extra padding often leads to post-holiday resolutions.

Don’t necessarily blame the turkey for weight gain. Among protein sources, turkey is lower in fat and calories than most other meats. Turkey is a good source of iron, zinc, phosphorus, potassium and B vitamins.

Nutritionally how does a standard 3.5-ounce portion of roasted turkey stack up? Nutritional content of turkey depends on whether it’s white meat or dark meat and with or without skin:

  • Roasted turkey breast without skin: 161 calories and 4 grams of fat
  • Roasted turkey breast with skin: 194 calories and 8 grams of fat
  • Dark turkey meat without skin:192 calories and 8 grams of fat
  • Dark turkey meat with skin: 232 calories and 13 grams of fat.

Consider cooking the stuffing in a separate container for both safety and nutritional reasons. Stuffing absorbs fat. If you choose to stuff the bird, stuff it loosely using no more than 3/4 cup of stuffing per pound of turkey. Cook the stuffing to at least 165 degrees F.

Roasting the turkey on a rack also helps reduce fat content by allowing the fat to drain away from the bird. Be sure to roast the turkey to a minimum internal temperature of 165 F and measure the temperature in the thickest part of the bird, away from the bone. When making gravy, skim the fat before adding thickening agents.

Perishable leftovers such as turkey, gravy and stuffing should be safe as long as they are chilled rapidly in shallow containers within two hours of cooking. Stuffing should be removed from the turkey’s cavity right before serving, and meat should be removed from the bones before refrigerating.

If leftover turkey won’t be used within four days, it should be frozen in meal-size portions. For best quality, use frozen turkey within four months. Refrigerated gravy and stuffing are best used within two days. For best quality, use frozen stuffing and gravy within one month.

Here’s an easy way to make leftover turkey disappear.

Turkey Enchiladas

1 (4 ounce) can chopped green chili peppers, drained
4 ounces lite cream cheese, softened
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
2 c. chopped cooked turkey
8 (8 inch) flour tortillas
1 (16 ounce) jar salsa
1 (16-ounce) can chili beans, undrained (with less salt)
1 c. shredded lowfat Monterey Jack cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease a 9×13-inch baking dish. In a medium bowl, mix chili peppers, cream cheese, and cumin. Stir in chopped turkey. Place the tortillas in a microwave oven. Heat for 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until the tortillas are softened. Spread about 2 heaping tablespoons of the chili pepper mixture on each tortilla, and roll up. Place the rolled tortillas, seam-side down, in a single layer in the prepared baking dish. In a medium bowl, combine the salsa and beans. Spoon the mixture over the enchiladas. Sprinkle the top with cheese. Bake 20 minutes in the preheated oven, or until bubbly and lightly browned.

Makes eight servings. Each serving has 330 calories, 10 grams (g) fat, 38 g carbohydrate, 24 g protein, 4 grams fiber and 1170 milligrams sodium.

Remind Trick or Treaters About Moderation

photo_by_michelle_bulgaria_morguefileTiny ghouls soon will haunt neighborhoods and pick up lots of sweet loot. Halloween is the top season for candy sales nationwide, according to the National Confectioners Association. It projects more than $2.6 billion candy will be sold during the 2015 Halloween season.

Most parents have a plan in place for encouraging moderation.

As long as trick or treaters don’t eat all their loot at once or have sweets squeeze out the healthful components of their diet, candy is not a major issue nutritionally. All foods can fit in a healthful diet as long as they are consumed in moderation.

Pennsylvania State University surveyed parents about ways they encourage moderation. Nearly 80 percent of parents monitor their children’s candy consumption. About 35 percent of surveyed parents limit the number of pieces per day, 21 percent distribute the candy to the child as they deem appropriate, 14 percent limit the total number of pieces, and 9 percent give children a general amount and take the rest away.

An occasional candy splurge, typical on Halloween, may result in a stomachache but no lasting issues for healthy kids. Sticky treats, however, can promote tooth decay if teeth aren’t brushed properly. So, remind the tricksters to brush their teeth well after enjoying a few treats.

If you’re concerned with the amount of candy your child, grandchild or visiting trick or treater might be eating, consider these alternatives: individual packs of pretzels, raisins, animal crackers, fruit leather, juice packs, pudding packs, applesauce packs and single-serving cereal boxes. Other nonfood treats that are popular with young goblins include stickers, colored pencils, plastic rings, note pads or gift certificates for ice cream or local fast-food restaurants. Remember to consider the age of the recipient and avoid treats that could pose a choking hazard.

Do you greet trick or treaters with the Halloween icon, the jack-o-lantern? Pumpkins are decorative, but many varieties also provide tasty and nutritious dessert ingredients. Pumpkin is an excellent source of beta-carotene, a pigment our bodies use to make vitamin A. Vitamin A helps keep skin and tissues healthy, helps our eyes see normally in the dark and works as an antioxidant nutrient that could lower our risk for certain kinds of cancer. Pumpkin also is a good source of fiber, plus it’s naturally low in fat and sodium.

When harvesting pumpkins, make sure they are well-matured on the vine, with hard skin not easily punctured by your thumbnail. Cut them from the vine with part of the stem still attached. Before storing, pumpkins should be “cured.” That means leaving them in a well-ventilated area at a temperature of 75 to 85 degrees for two weeks. If it’s warm outside, the curing process can be done right in the pumpkin patch by placing them in small piles. After curing, store pumpkins in a dry area at about 50 degrees.

Even pumpkin seeds are good snacks. After removing the pumpkin pulp, rinse the seeds, blot them with a paper towel, toss them with a little vegetable oil, place them on a baking sheet and season with your desired savory or sweet flavorings and toast in your oven until crisp. Here’s a tasty recipe to try.

Cinnamon and Sugar Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

1 c. pumpkin seeds
1 Tbsp. melted butter (or substitute oil)
1 Tbsp. sugar
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
dash of salt

Toss seeds with above ingredients. Line a well-greased baking sheet with seed mixture and bake at 300 degrees for approximately 50 minutes. Stir and mix the seeds often to keep from burning and sticking. Bake until browned. Let cool and enjoy!

Note: Pumpkin seeds can be a choking hazard for children, especially for those less than 5 years of age.

Makes eight servings. Each serving has 170 calories, 14 grams (g) of fat, 7 g of protein, 7 g of carbohydrates,1 g of fiber and 5 milligrams of sodium.


(Pumpkin photo by Michelle Bulgaria courtesy of morguefile.com)

Can You Name These Types of Squash?

photo by kconnors courtesy of morguefile.com

photo by kconnors courtesy of morguefile.com

I remember peeking under the big, green leaves in the pumpkin and winter squash patch of our garden when I was young. Some of the trailing vines led into the wooded area next to our garden.

The bright orange pumpkins were easy to spot, but finding the green squash hidden in the foliage was like discovering a prize. At the end of the season, I knew I needed to be careful not to break the stem close to the squash when I cut them from the vine. Even though it was tempting, I wasn’t supposed to use the stem as a carrying handle, either.

In fact, most horticultural references recommend that you leave 1 inch of stem on squash and about 3 inches on pumpkins. Breaking the stem close to pumpkins and squash can decrease storage life.

I must have liked squash even as a kid because I didn’t deliberately break a stem to shorten the time it would appear on our dinner menu. Our squash lasted well into the winter in our cool basement. Winter squash typically can be stored for three to six months at 50 degrees.

I still enjoy colorful winter squash as a side dish. Not only is squash fairly low in calories at about 60 calories per half cup, but the varieties with dark orange flesh also are excellent sources of carotenoids, which our bodies convert to vitamin A.

Our bodies use vitamin A to maintain the health of our skin and eyes. Vitamin A helps us see better in low-light conditions. Winter squash also provides potassium, fiber and other nutrients.

We have many types of winter squash available to try. How many varieties can you name? Try this short quiz. If you aren’t feeling savvy about squash varieties, check out the big hint at the end of each clue.

  1. This bell-shaped squash is about a foot long and weighs a couple of pounds. Its skin is easy to peel and its flesh is golden orange. A half-cup serving has 230 percent of the daily recommendation for vitamin A. Hint: Its name might remind you of a common spread for bread. Its name also suggests this squash variety is in the same family as a peanut or walnut.
  2. This small squash has a name that describes its shape. On average, it weighs 1 to 2 pounds. Hint: A squirrel might be amazed by the size and shape of this squash.
  3. This is oval-shaped squash is yellow. It weighs up to 3 pounds and is about 9 inches long. It forms strands when cooked. Hint: You might think you are eating pasta, but this edible gourd counts as a vegetable.
  4. This squash variety is known for its mealy texture and orange flesh. It’s fairly round and stocky. The flavor may remind you of eating a sweet potato. Although it tends to be a bit dry when baked, you can enhance the moistness by steaming it. Hint: Part of its name will remind you of a common spread for bread. The other part of the name is a kitchen measuring tool.
  5. This type of squash can grow to 50 pounds, although it also is available in 5-pound sizes. It ranges from dark green to orange. One-half cup of this type of squash provides 140 percent of the daily recommendation for vitamin A. Hint: There’s a nursery rhyme about an “old mother” of the same name.

How did you do? The answers are 1. Butternut; 2. Acorn; 3. Spaghetti; 4. Buttercup; and 5. Hubbard.

Squash is a nutrient-rich, fiber-rich food, and it helps you meet the current goal to add more dark orange and gold vegetables and fruits to our diet.

When you are choosing a squash, avoid the ones with blemishes or cuts in the rind because they will spoil faster. Although you can bake the entire squash as a whole and scoop out the seeds later, some people prefer to cut and peel the squash to hasten cooking.

Be careful when cutting a squash because the rind and flesh are tough prior to cooking. Position the squash on a cutting board with the stem end facing you. Use a chef’s knife or cleaver to split the squash in half. You may need to hit the knife with a mallet. Then simply cook in water, steam, microwave or bake until softened.

You can freeze cooked, mashed squash in recipe-sized amounts in freezer bags or freezer containers. While canning pumpkin or squash cubes is considered safe when you follow the proper processing procedure, canning mashed pumpkin or squash is not recommended because of safety issues. You can learn more about canning and freezing food at https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/food (check out the food preservation publications).

You might like mashed squash with a bit of butter and brown sugar as a side dish. You can substitute squash in pumpkin pies or try squash in a less traditional way, such as in pancakes.

This week’s recipe was adapted from a recipe on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at http://www.fruitsandveggiesmatter.gov/.

Winter Squash (or Pumpkin) Pancakes

2 c. winter squash, cooked and mashed
1 1/2 Tbsp. brown sugar, packed
1 c. (8 ounces) fat-free milk
2 eggs (or use 1/2 c. egg substitute)
1/2 c. flour (could substitute half whole-wheat flour)
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
2 Tbsp. chives, chopped (optional)

Note: You can substitute an equal amount of canned pure pumpkin for the squash.

Heat griddle or heavy skillet lightly sprayed with cooking spray on medium heat. Preheat oven to 250 F. Beat mashed squash with brown sugar, milk and egg or egg substitute until smooth. In a separate bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. Stir dry ingredients into squash mixture until combined. Fold in chives if desired. Drop batter onto hot skillet by the heaping tablespoonful. Lightly oil a spatula and flatten/spread the pancake batter. When golden brown on the bottom, flip the pancakes. As they brown on the other side, transfer them to a baking sheet and keep them warm in the oven while cooking the rest of the batter.

Makes four servings. When made with mashed butternut squash, each serving has 140 calories, less than 1 gram (g) of fat, 5 g of protein, 31 g of carbohydrate, 420 milligrams of sodium, 230 percent of the daily recommendation for vitamin A and 25 percent of the daily value of vitamin C.

Which Cereal Do You Pick?

cereal_by_earl53Strolling down the cereal aisle in a large grocery store can be quite an experience. When my children were younger, I approached the cereal aisle a bit cautiously. I knew my kids would be reaching for the boxes with a cartoon character they recognized. Sometimes I discovered at the checkout stand that extra items had landed in our grocery cart.

When strolling down the cereal aisle, a wall of brightly colored boxes greets you. Some cereal boxes contain toys and others have “free offers” and contests. Some offer free music downloads. Through the years, cereal boxes have featured sports stars on the front panel. Sometimes the boxes actually sparkle.

Cereals promise to color your milk like the rainbow or make chocolate milk from plain milk. Depending on what the current popular kids’ movies are, cartoon characters may beckon you to add the box to your shopping cart.

If you can get past all the marketing, how do you decide which cereal is most nutritious and also tastes better than Styrofoam packing peanuts? You need to pick up the box and take a close look at the ingredient label and nutrition facts label.

Breakfast cereals contain wheat, oats, rice, corn, barley or some other grain. Some contain a variety of added ingredients such as dried fruit or nuts. As a clue to nutritional content, look for “whole grain,” “whole wheat” or “whole grain oats”  on the box or as one of the first ingredients on the ingredient list.

A cereal labeled “whole grain” meets specific U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations for nutritional content. Whole-grain foods contain the bran, germ and endosperm (starchy part) of the grain, along with all the phytochemicals (plant chemicals) shown to have health benefits.

Most cereals are fortified with a variety of vitamins such as folic acid and vitamin C and minerals such as iron and zinc. A cereal that provides 100 percent of the daily value for several nutrients is like getting a vitamin/mineral pill in your cereal bowl, which you may or may not need. Some cereals are fortified with calcium, which can help fill nutrition gaps for those who do not drink milk or eat other calcium-rich foods.

Researchers have shown that breakfast cereals are a major source of vitamins and minerals for children. In a study of 4,000 children ages 2 to 18, researchers reported that breakfast cereal contributed 22 percent of the vitamin A, 10 percent of the vitamin C, 30 percent of the folic acid and 27 percent of the iron.

Iron deficiency remains a nutritional issue for many children. Children of all ages can benefit from the iron contained in fortified cereals. Nutrition specialists generally recommend that parents of infants choose iron-fortified cereals.

A serving (about 1 ounce) of ready-to-eat cereal may contain added sweeteners, which improve taste and provide calories but little else. Check out the “sugars” section of the nutrition facts label and remember that a teaspoon of sweetener weighs about 5 grams.

Instant oatmeal, for example, may contain the equivalent of 3 teaspoons of sweetener while plain oatmeal contains none. Try flavoring oatmeal and other cereals with apple sauce, dried fruit such as raisins or cranberries, or just a sprinkle of brown sugar.

Visit www.ag.ndsu.edu/publications/landing-pages/food-and-nutrition/snack-mixes-fn-1753 for information about making your own snack mixes with the ingredients you have on hand. This tasty recipe is from that online snack mix guide.

No-bake Snack Mix

4 c. cereal squares (such as corn or wheat Chex or Crispix)
1¼ c. whole-grain crackers (such as Wheat Thins)
1¼ c. bite-size cheddar cheese crackers (such as Goldfish)
1½ Tbsp. vegetable oil
½ (1-oz.) envelope ranch salad dressing mix

Combine cereal and crackers in large bowl. Drizzle with oil and stir gently. Sprinkle with dressing mix and stir gently. Place in an air-tight container.

Makes 26 (¼-cup) servings. Each serving has 60 calories, 2 grams (g) fat, 1 g protein, 8 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber and 140 milligrams sodium.

October is National Pasta Month

xandert_morguefilePasta always comes to mind when I want to make a quick, nutritious, economical and tasty meal. I make extra, because I know my growing kids will ask for seconds.

Pasta is a versatile menu option. Numerous pasta shapes are available, ranging from standard spaghetti to spirals and bowties to cartoon-character-shaped pasta in macaroni and cheese dinner mixes.

Pasta is made from semolina, which is produced from durum wheat. North Dakota leads the United States in durum wheat production. North Dakota farmers harvest about 73 percent of the total U.S. durum wheat crop according to the North Dakota Wheat Commission.

Enriched grain foods, including pasta, provide B vitamins like thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid and iron. Folic acid, for example, has been shown to help prevent birth defects, plus it may protect your heart from heart disease. If you choose whole grains, you’ll be getting the bonus of fiber and antioxidants, which may help prevent heart disease and some types of cancer.

Unfortunately pasta is passed up by some people. Shunning carbohydrate-containing foods isn’t a proven way to stay slim. In fact, some studies report that people who eat the recommended amount of carbohydrates are less likely to be overweight. A USDA study found that those who ate a high-carbohydrate diet ate 300 less calories daily than those on low-carbohydrate diets.

If weight maintenance or loss is your goal, watch your portion sizes. Remember that ½ cup of cooked pasta technically is a “serving” or an “ounce equivalent” based on the Dietary Guidelines (www.MyPlate.gov).

Typically restaurants provide multiple servings of pasta when you order a spaghetti meal. Take advantage of these ample portions by not eating it all in one sitting. Get a “to-go” container right away and pack tomorrow’s lunch.

Are you hungry for pasta? Try these tips:

  • Learn to cook perfect pasta by tapping into the National Pasta Association’s Web site: www.ilovepasta.org
  • Take a fellow pasta lover to lunch at your favorite pasta restaurant.
  • Try a new pasta shape in some of your favorite pasta dishes.
  • Try a new pasta shape every month.
  • Try out whole-grain pasta.
  • Check out the serving sizes and Nutrition Facts information on the pasta container.

Here’s a recipe. adapted from one that appeared on the Wheat Foods Council Web site, www.wheatfoods.org, which provide excellent information on wheat-based foods. This recipe is brimming with autumn-fresh vegetables.

Vegetable Spaghetti

2 cups small, yellow onions, cut in eighths
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups chopped, peeled, fresh, ripe tomatoes (about 1 pound or substitute canned)
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups thinly sliced yellow and green squash (about 1 pound)
1 1/2 cups cut, fresh, green beans (about 1/2 pound) (or substitute canned)
2/3 cup water
Black pepper, to taste
1 can (6 oz.) tomato paste
1 pound uncooked spaghetti
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Combine first 10 ingredients in a large saucepan; cook for 10 minutes, then stir in tomato paste. Cover and cook gently for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until vegetables are tender. Cook spaghetti in unsalted water according to package directions. Spoon sauce over drained, hot spaghetti and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Makes 9 servings.  Each serving contains about 280 calories, 3 grams (g) fat, 11 g protein, 55 g carbohydrate, 5 g fiber and 170 milligrams sodium.

Does Your Cookware Affect Your Cooking?

seeman_morguefileOrdering a complete set of cookware sounded like a good deal when I was in college. The gleaming pots and pans looked great in the advertisement, and the price was reasonable, especially with the money-back guarantee.

When the large box arrived, I thought I would strain my back picking it up at the post office. I took a good hold and lifted hard, almost throwing the box over my shoulder in the process. That lightweight box should have been my first clue about the value of my purchase.

I decided to cook a meal for my friends. No matter how much oil I used or what the setting was on the burners, everything burned to the bottom. Our dinner was not my best culinary effort. I avoided the burned part, and we ate it anyway.

When cleaning up, I remembered the pans were supposed to be dishwasher safe, so I washed them in the pot and pan cycle. The handles partially melted and the screws came loose. Disgruntled by this point, I checked on sending the cookware back and found the cost of mailing it back was not refundable. I wasn’t convinced the company would send my money back anyway. I learned a valuable lesson about bargain cookware.

Many types of cookware materials are available. Copper cookware is the best in terms of energy conduction. Copper cookware generally is lined with another metal, such as stainless steel, because copper can leach into foods and could pose a toxicity hazard. Because copper is attractive, many people use copper pots as kitchen decorations, although they usually require polishing.

Aluminum pots also are excellent heat conductors. On the downside, aluminum pots, unless anodized, may become dented, scratched or discolored. Try to avoid cooking acidic foods, such as tomatoes, in aluminum pots because aluminum can be leached into the food and the pans may discolor. If aluminum pots become old and pitted, you probably will want to retire them.

Stainless steel is an old standby cooking material because it’s easy to clean and durable. However, the pots may have hot spots. Some people are allergic to nickel, one of the components of stainless steel, but for the majority, stainless steel works well.

Pans with nonstick coatings have been popular for years. Considered nontoxic, the coatings are safe, although they may wear out through time. Your best option is to hand wash nonstick cookware unless the manufacturer says the pans are dishwasher safe.

Cast iron pots are worth the muscle power you need to lift them out of storage. While heavy, they do retain heat once they reach a desired temperature. Chefs like them for frying, browning and slow cooking.

According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture study, using iron pots can increase the amount of iron in food. Researchers cooked three different cabbage recipes in iron or aluminum pots and measured the foods’ iron content and the iron’s ability to be absorbed by the body. All the foods cooked in the cast iron pots had more iron available for absorption. Sauerkraut cooked in an iron pot had the highest iron level because the acidic food leached additional iron from the pot.

Here’s a tasty soup recipe. To get some extra iron, consider using a cast iron pot.

Taco Soup

1 lb. lean ground beef
1 tsp. chopped garlic
1 medium onion, chopped
1 15‐oz. can tomato sauce
1 can water
1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 15‐oz. can diced tomatoes
1 envelope taco seasoning
Optional toppings: crushed taco chips, shredded cheese, light sour cream

Brown ground beef with garlic and onion. Drain well. Mix together tomato sauce, water, kidney beans, tomatoes and taco seasoning. Add to ground beef mixture. Cook until heated to at least 165 F. If desired, serve with crushed taco chips, shredded cheese and sour cream.

Makes six servings. Each serving (without added toppings) has 320 calories, 14 grams (g) fat, 42 g carbohydrate and 9 g fiber.

Does Your Plate Match the Fall Colors?

file0001606484563“Incorporating colorful fruits and vegetables into a daily eating plan may be the best defensive strategy for fending off many diseases of aging such as cancer, heart disease and dementia,” according to James A. Joseph, Ph.D., the co-author of the book “The Color Code.”

As autumn arrives with its cooler weather, nature’s pallet becomes colored by different hues. The colors of nature are more than cosmetic. The colorful plants we eat have health benefits that scientists are just beginning to understand. Now more than ever, we have reasons to fill our plates with a variety of naturally colored plant foods.

The study of phytochemicals (“phyto” means plant) is a continuing area of research. Phytochemicals are not the same as vitamins and minerals, and they don’t provide calories, protein or other nutrients. Thousands of plant chemicals exist, providing color and flavor, among other things. Phytochemicals protect the plant from sun, wind and insects.

Red plant foods, for example, may contain the natural pigments lycopene or anthocyanins. Lycopenes are found in tomatoes, pink grapefruit and watermelon. The health benefits of lycopenes include reducing the risk of cancer, especially prostate cancer. Lycopenes are better absorbed in cooked form than raw. A tomato-based recipe containing fat helps the body absorb lycopenes.

Anthocyanins are red or blue pigments found in foods such as strawberries, red apples, chokecherries, blueberries, eggplants and purple grapes. They act as antioxidants and may reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease and possibly aging. Nutrition research using rats has shown that blueberry extract helped improve motor skills and reversed short-term memory loss associated with aging.

Orange and yellow produce may contain beta-carotene or zeaxanthin. Beta-carotene is found in foods such as sweet potatoes, carrots and pumpkins. Beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A and helps promote healthy skin, eyes and mucous membranes. Zeaxanthin is found in corn and is linked with healthy eyes and the prevention of macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness.

Some green vegetables such as spinach contain the chemical lutein, which may reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. Other phytochemicals in green cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and brussels sprouts help fight against breast, prostate and stomach cancer.

White produce such as onions and garlic contain phytochemicals that may protect us from heart disease.

Taste the rainbow of produce colors. Buy fresh fruits and vegetables in season. To preserve nutrients in cooked vegetables, steam, microwave or cook them in a small amount of water. Boiling for a prolonged time can break down phytochemicals and lead to a loss of nutrients. Serve them quickly to avoid standing time and nutrient loss.

Try this healthful one-pot recipe from the American Institute for Cancer Research.

Herbed Couscous With Chicken

1 c. thinly sliced leeks
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 c. quartered brussels sprouts
2 c. peeled, bite-size cubes of butternut squash
2 Tbsp. olive oil
8 ounces skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size chunks
1 1/2 c. fat-free chicken broth, divided
Salt and pepper to taste
1 c. whole-wheat couscous
2 to 4 Tbsp. minced herb blend of fresh sage, thyme and marjoram (or use 1/4 tsp. of each herb, dried)
1/4 c. minced parsley

Saute leeks, garlic, brussels sprouts and butternut squash in olive oil for about five minutes. Add chicken and 1/4 c. chicken broth. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer five to 10 minutes or until chicken is cooked and veggies are tender. Stir in couscous. Add remaining 1 1/4 c. broth along with sage, thyme and marjoram. Cover and simmer five more minutes or until liquid is completely absorbed. Adjust seasonings to taste. Stir in parsley.

Makes four servings. Each serving has 350 calories, 9 grams (g) fat, 20 g protein, 48 g carbohydrate, 5 g fiber and 270 milligrams sodium.

How About Some Cabbage?

Photo courtesy of green finger and morguefile.com

Photo courtesy of green finger and morguefile.com

I was perusing a community garden the other day and noticed some good-looking cabbages. Cabbage is kind of unique in that it has a bland flavor when raw and a pronounced flavor when cooked.

When a pot of cabbage is simmering on the stove, you don’t have to ask what’s for dinner. Your nose knows.

According to an ancient Greek saying, “Cabbage twice cooked is death.” A member of the cruciferous family of vegetables, cabbage contains sulfur compounds that form hydrogen sulfide gas during cooking. Hydrogen sulfide is the chemical responsible for the scent of rotten eggs.

Some chefs have suggested dropping a whole walnut into the cooking water to help decrease the typical cabbage scent. Leaving the pot partially uncovered also helps dispel the fragrance of cooking vegetables.

Scent aside, you have several reasons to enjoy more cruciferous vegetables. They’re economical and nutritious, and you have an array of choices. The cruciferous vegetable family tree includes numerous types of cabbage, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, watercress and kohlrabi. They all look a little different but have similar nutritional properties. For example, Savoy cabbage has curly leaves. Napa, or Chinese cabbage, is lighter in color and more elongated, and has a milder flavor than other varieties.

Chemicals in cabbage and its relatives are linked to health benefits. Cabbage is a good source of vitamin C, and it is low in calories at about 15 calories per half cup of raw cabbage. Isothiocyanates, sulfur-containing compounds common in the cruciferous family, are responsible for at least some of the health benefits. In a study of more than 18,000 Chinese males ranging in age from 45 to 64, eating more cruciferous vegetables was associated with a lower risk of lung cancer.

Cruciferous vegetables are linked with reducing the risk of prostate cancer, too. Researchers studied 600 men with prostate cancer. Men who ate three servings of cruciferous vegetables weekly were half as likely to get prostate cancer. Tomatoes, green vegetables and cooked dry beans also play a protective role against prostate cancer. In addition, cruciferous vegetables are linked with reducing the risk of stomach cancer.

Add more cruciferous vegetables to your menu. When selecting cabbage, look for solid heads that are heavy in relation to size. Avoid cabbage with yellowish or brownish leaves. Red cabbage should be a deep purple-red.

When properly stored, cabbage can last several weeks in the refrigerator. To store cabbage, remove the outside leaves and cut out the core. Wash well under running water, place in a plastic bag or wrap in plastic wrap, and place in the vegetable crisper.

A versatile ingredient, cabbage goes beyond its traditional roles in sauerkraut and coleslaw. Shred cabbage and add to tossed salads, soups or stir-fry. Stuff cabbage leaves with cooked rice and meat, and simmer in spaghetti sauce. Cooking cabbage too long, however, can leave you with an olive green side dish. The color reaction occurs when natural acids in cabbage react with chlorophyll, the green pigment in cabbage. Cook cabbage quickly in as little water as possible.

Here’s a colorful and tasty recipe that makes use of red cabbage.

Red Cabbage With Apples

2 medium tart apples, sliced
3 Tbsp. margarine
1 medium head red cabbage, coarsely shredded
1/4 c. water
1/4 c. vinegar
2 Tbsp. sugar

In a large pan, cook and stir apples in margarine over medium heat for five minutes. Stir in remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer until cabbage is tender, about 40 minutes. Serve red cabbage with apples as a side dish.

Make six servings. Each serving has 140 calories, 6 grams (g) fat, 2 g protein, 23 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber and 90 milligrams sodium.


Have You Had an Encounter with Eggplant?

eggplant_szafirek_morguefileThe other night I was looking at a very productive community garden led by an enthusiastic tour guide, who happened to be the 11-year-old daughter of a friend. She showed us the watermelons, a variety of herbs and egg plants. My youngest daughter studied the eggplant intently.

The experience made me remember the first time I brought home an eggplant. I probably would have gotten similar attention if I brought a Martian home for dinner. I experienced again the importance of parental modeling.

“Anything as weird as eggplant has to be nutritious,” my husband commented.

“It doesn’t look like an egg,” our son remarked. He was 7 at the time.

“I think it’s pretty and shiny,” our then-4-year-old daughter added.

“It’s supposed to be purple, not almost black,” our son reminded her.

When I finally was able to extricate my family from staring at the intact eggplant, I prepared it in a way I thought they might enjoy – or at least taste. I dipped eggplant slices in beaten eggs, rolled them in crushed crackers and herbs, and fried them.

I gave my husband a pile of eggplant to eat. He ate it all with no further comments.

My daughter ate a small piece. My son wrinkled his nose as though an alien had landed on his plate. He looked at me and said, “This is too weird.”

Echoing in my brain was the advice of nutritionists who say a new food may take 10 or more exposures before a child will try it. I decided to be patient.

Eggplants have been eaten – and assumingly enjoyed – for centuries. Spaniards called it “Berenganias” or the apple of love. They thought eggplant contained a love potion. In the United States, eggplant was first used as an ornamental plant.

Eggplant is very low in calories, unless you bread it and fry it. A half-cup serving of plain eggplant contains about 20 calories and is a source of dietary fiber and some vitamin C.

Eggplants are very perishable so they should be used quickly after purchase or harvest. Look for eggplants with a smooth, even-colored dark purple skin. Avoid eggplants with any sunken dark areas. Store them in the vegetable compartment of your refrigerator because the higher humidity helps keep them fresh.

Eggplant can be sautéed, baked, broiled, grilled or stuffed. Extra eggplant can be frozen. To freeze, slice or cube eggplant, dip in a solution of 1 tablespoon lemon juice to 1 quart water, and blanch in boiling water for 4 minutes. Cool promptly in cold water. After cooling, dip again in the lemon juice solution. Drain well and package in air-tight containers leaving 1/2-inch headspace.

Here’s a tasty recipe that makes good use of autumn produce, including eggplant.


1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, sliced
1 green pepper, seeded and cut in strips
3 medium unpared zucchini, cut in 1/4-inch slices
1 medium eggplant, pared and cut into cubes
2 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper
3 tomatoes, peeled and cut in wedges

Heat oil in large skillet; add garlic, onion, green pepper and zucchini; cook about 3 minutes or until onion is tender, stirring frequently. Add eggplant, herbs and seasonings; cover and cook over medium heat 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add tomato wedges; cover and cook 5 minutes longer or until tomatoes are heated. Serve hot or cold. (Note: to remove skins from tomatoes, plunge tomatoes one at a time in boiling water for about 30 seconds. Skins will then slip off easily.)

Makes six servings. Each serving contains 136 calories, 9.5 grams fat, 12.5 grams carbohydrates and 4 grams fiber.