Welcome to my blog on healthy eating and food safety. I look forward to your comments and feedback regarding use of this tool to disseminate educational information. This blog will be updated on a regular basis.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Planting in Small Spaces

Planting In Small Spaces
Many people don't have a large landscape, but still enjoy gardening. A windowsill, patio, balcony or doorstep can provide sufficient space. Whether it’s  herbs or vegetables you want to grow, container gardening may be the answer to your gardening needs.
The amount of sunlight your container garden spot receives determines what vegetables and herbs can be grown. Generally, root and leaf crops tolerate partial shade, but vegetables grown for their fruits, like tomatoes or peppers, need at least six hours of full, direct sunlight each day. They perform even better with 8-10 hours.
Choose the largest containers possible for your location. Providing your plants a large soil area for root growth will make them more vigorous and productive. Plus, larger containers dry out slower than smaller ones do during hot weather when your plants are fully grown.
Use a Good Soil Mix
A fairly lightweight potting mix is best in containers; soil straight from the garden is usually too heavy unless your garden has sandy loam or sandy soil. However, garden soil can also contain disease organisms, so if you’ve had disease problems consider using a prepared peat-based soil mix from the garden center or make your own soil blend.
To mix your own soil, use one part peat moss or screened compost, one part garden loam and one part clean coarse sand. Incorporate a complete, slow release fertilizer (10-10-10 or 20-20-20) according to your container size and the fertilizer label directions.
Plan Your Garden Wisely
Since growing space is much more limited in containers, you’ll need to make the most of your garden space. Try one or more of the following techniques to get the biggest harvest from your small space.
· Choose compact or bush-type vegetable cultivars. With increasing interest in container gardening, plant breeders and seed companies continue to develop vegetables specifically bred for container culture. These cultivars are not necessarily miniature or dwarf and may produce as well as standard types if the receive proper care.
· Grow high yielding vegetables, such as tomatoes, lettuce, turnips, summer squash, and edible-pod peas.
· Use vertical structures with crops like beans or peas, so your plants grow up rather than out.
· Avoid overplanting any single vegetable. Summer squash and zucchini are two of the biggest offenders when it comes to over-production. One plant for every one or two family members is probably enough.
· Interplant fast-maturing crops, such as lettuce, radishes, spinach and beets together with slow-maturing crops.
· Plant both early-maturing and late-maturing cultivars of the same vegetable.
Be creative about containers. Strawberry jars can be used for planting small trailing herbs.
Planting & Care
Container crops should be planted at the same time you would plant an in-ground garden. Pay particular attention to watering container plants. Because of the relatively small soil volume containers dry out quickly, especially on a concrete patio in full sun. Daily watering, or even twice daily watering, may be necessary in the middle of summer when your plants are heavily bearing and the weather is hot. Soak the entire root ball down with each watering, so that water runs out the drainage holes.
Even if you incorporated a slow-release fertilizer into the soil before planting your plants will need additional fertilization throughout the summer. Additional slow-release fertilizer can be applied to the top of the soil and lightly mixed in. Or a water-soluble fertilizer applied bi-weekly. Follow your fertilizer’s label directions.
Adapted from the University of Nebraska Extension



Monday, May 23, 2016

May is National Barbecue Month

May Is National Barbecue Month
April showers have passed and barbecues are in full bloom.  Perfect weather and longer days make the month of May the perfect time to celebrate National Barbecue MonthOutdoor cooking remains more popular than ever, with seventy percent of Americans revealing that they prefer cooking out over eating out to save money, according to new national poll released today by the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA).  In fact, consumers claimed that a cookout at home is more fun and relaxing than dining out.

Whether it’s a weekday family meal on the grill or a weekend barbecue, outdoor cooking can make preparing the meal just as easy and relaxing as enjoying the delicious food with others. Here are some tips from the USDA for a successful BBQ.
Marinating: A marinade is a savory, acidic sauce in which a food is soaked to enrich its flavor or to tenderize it. Marinate food in the refrigerator, not on the counter. Poultry and cubed meat or stew meat can be marinated up to 2 days. Beef, veal, pork, and lamb roasts, chops, and steaks may be marinated up to 5 days. If some of the marinade is to be used as a sauce on the cooked food, reserve a portion of the marinade before putting raw meat and poultry in it. However, if the marinade used on raw meat or poultry is to be reused, make sure to let it come to a boil first to destroy any harmful bacteria.
Keep Cold Food Cold: Keep meat and poultry refrigerated until ready to use. Only take out the meat and poultry that will immediately be placed on the grill. When using a cooler, keep it out of the direct sun by placing it in the shade or shelter. Avoid opening the lid too often, which lets cold air out and warm air in. Pack beverages in one cooler and perishables in a separate cooler.
Keep Everything Clean: Be sure there are plenty of clean utensils and platters. To prevent foodborne illness, don't use the same platter and utensils for raw and cooked meat and poultry. Harmful bacteria present in raw meat and poultry and their juices can contaminate safely cooked food.
If you're eating away from home, find out if there's a source of clean water. If not, bring water for preparation and cleaning. Or pack clean cloths, and moist towelettes for cleaning surfaces and hands.
Cook Thoroughly: Cook food to a safe minimum internal temperature to destroy harmful bacteria. Meat and poultry cooked on a grill often browns very fast on the outside. Use a food thermometer to be sure the food has reached a safe minimum internal temperature.
Cook all raw beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops, and roasts to a minimum internal temperature of 145 °F as measured with a food thermometer before removing meat from the heat source. For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming. For reasons of personal preference, consumers may choose to cook meat to higher temperatures.
Cook all raw ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal to an internal temperature of 160 °F as measured with a food thermometer.
Cook all poultry to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F as measured with a food thermometer.
NEVER partially grill meat or poultry and finish cooking later.
Safe Minimum Internal Temperatures
Whole poultry: 165 °F
Poultry breasts: 165 °F
Ground poultry: 165 °F
Ground meats: 160 °F
Beef, pork, lamb, and veal (steaks, roasts and chops): 145 °F and allow to rest at least 3 minutes

Friday, May 20, 2016

Grilled Fruit Desserts

Grilled Fruit Desserts
It’s officially grilling season.  We often associate grilling with meat, poultry and vegetables.  Here are some ideas for using your grill to prepare desserts where fruit is the featured ingredient.
Grilled fruit and pound cake:  Slice pound cake into one half inch slices.  Brush with melted butter. Grill over medium heat, turning once until toasted.  Brush halved and pitted peaches with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar.  Grill cut-side down until golden, approximately 2 to 3 minutes.  Flip and cook 1 to 2 minutes more.  Remove and dice.  Serve fruit on top of grilled pound cake.  For a finishing touch, mix together two parts whipped cream and one part Greek yogurt.
Halve a peach or plum or slice a banana length-wise with the skin on.  Place on tinfoil, skin side down after spraying with none stick vegetable spray.  Grill until tender approximately 2-3 minutes per side,  stuff with nuts, berries, coconut, chocolate chips or Greek yogurt.
Place grilled fruit on top of granola and top with pecans and crème fraiche.
Wrap apricots and plums in foil with gingersnap cookies and grill them directly over hot coals.
Banana boats, while leaving the peel on a banana, slice the banana lengthwise.  Carefully spread open the peel and fill cavity with dark chocolate chips and miniature marshmallows.  Place banana on grill and remove when marshmallows are starting to melt and turn brown.
Place halved peaches with stone removed on tin foil that has been sprayed with non-stick vegetable spray.  Top with handful of blueberries and brown sugar. Fold up tinfoil to make a packet.  Place on grill and cook until fruit is tender. 


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Rhubarb and Asparagus After a Frost-Can I Eat It?

Rhubarb and Asparagus After a Frost – Can I Eat It?
With the very chilly temperatures experienced in Northeast and Northern Wisconsin for the past several weeks and most recently, the overnight temperatures dropping to or near freezing, you may have questions about the safety of eating rhubarb and asparagus. Please see the information below prepared by the University of Illinois Extension.
Growing rhubarb is fairly easy as long as Mother Nature keeps temperatures above freezing once the leaves have emerged.  Rhubarb should not be harvested when the leaves are wilted and limp after a hard freeze.The part that we consume is the petiole or the leaf stalk.  Rhubarb leaves should never be eaten since they contain a toxic substance called oxalic acid.  Under normal harvest the leafstalk is cut at the base and the leaf blades are trimmed off.  After a hard frost oxalic acid may move from the leaves into the leafstalk.  When consumed the oxalic acid can crystallize in the kidneys and cause permanent damage to the organs.
In addition to the potential toxicity, the rhubarb leaf stalks will be of poor texture and flavor.
All rhubarb leaf stalks/petioles that have been exposed to freezing temperatures should be removed and discarded. The re-growth is safe to eat.  As normal harvest begins, always leave at least one-third of the petioles un-harvested to insure the plant will return next season.
Asparagus harvest also is affected by cold temperatures – but it does not have the toxicity issues like rhubarb.  You can expect to see frost damage to the exposed spear tips.  These are edible but they are off flavor and will have a softer texture.
Asparagus will start to re-grow as the temperatures warm up.  A mature planting can be harvested until spears become thin and spindly.  This thinning is a signal telling you to stop harvesting for the year and allow the ferns to grow.
Source: Martha A. Smith, Extension Educator, Horticulture, smithma@illinois.edu

Monday, May 16, 2016

Now is the Time to Purchase Mangos

Now Is the Time to Purchase Mangos

Mangos are one of the most popular fruit in the World. While they can be purchased year round, they are more commonly found in the supermarket in the spring and fall.
Mangos were first grown in India over 5,000 years ago. Mango seeds traveled with humans from Asia to the Middle East, East Africa and South America beginning around 300 or 400 A.D.
A one-cup serving of mangos is 100 calories. Mangos provide 100% of your daily vitamin C, 35% of your daily vitamin A and 12% of your daily fiber. Each serving of mango is fat free, sodium free and cholesterol free.
Here are some tips for ripening and storing mangos.
  • Keep unripe mangos at room temperature. Mangos shouldn’t be refrigerated before they are ripe.
  • Mangos will continue to ripen at room temperature, becoming sweeter and softer over several days. To speed up ripening, place mangos in a paper bag at room temperature. Don’t judge a mango by its color – red does not mean ripe. Squeeze gently to judge ripeness. A ripe mango will “give” slightly and a firm mango will ripen at room temperature over a few days
  • Once ripe, mangos should be moved to the refrigerator, which will slow down the ripening process. Whole, ripe mangos may be stored for up to five days in the refrigerator.
  • Mangos may be peeled, cubed and placed in an airtight container in the refrigerator for several days or in the freezer for up to six months.
    There are many ways to eat mangos. In many Latin American countries, mango on a stick with the skin peeled back is sold by street vendors. Mangos can be enjoyed with salt, lime juice or chili powder for a unique flavor experience. Mangos have natural tenderizing properties, making them a perfect ingredient for marinades. Try the versatile mango in smoothies, salads, salsas, chutneys, on fish, chicken or pork, as a dessert or just plain as a delicious snack

Friday, May 13, 2016

It's Basic-CHILL

It’s Basic-CHILL
Chilling foods promptly and properly is one of the four basic foundations of home safety.
Learn more in the CHILL fact sheet by clicking the link:

Monday, May 9, 2016

May is National Salsa Month

May is National Salsa Month
Salsas, Spanish for the word "sauce," are low in calories, full of flavor, and available with a variety of ingredients, from tomatoes, jalapenos and habaneras to mangoes, pineapples, strawberries and even beans. May is National Salsa Month, and the perfect way to celebrate is by experimenting with different salsa recipes. Salsas can be scrambled in eggs, dished as a garnish for chicken and fish, or served as an ice cream topping. Salsas are enjoyed for their intense flavors and colors. Check out the following tips for sensational salsas.

Spice up Snacks and Meals with Salsa:
Add taste without adding lots of calories. A combination of tomatoes, onions and peppers can add zest to chips. A mixture of fruit, herbs, onion, and pepper added to meat or fish can add unique flavors to dishes. There are a variety of salsa options for different preferences and dishes such as spicy, hot, sweet, savory, herbal and aromatic.
Salsa ingredients and preparation tips. Keep cut fruits, such as apples, pears, bananas and peaches, from turning brown by coating them with an acidic juice such as lemon, orange or pineapple juice. Or use a commercial produce protector and follow the manufacturer's directions. Cover and refrigerate cut fruit and veggies until ready to serve. Most salsas taste best if refrigerated for about an hour before serving to let flavors blend.
Serve salsa safely. Perishable foods like dips, salsas, and cut fruit and vegetables should not sit at room temperature for more than two hours. If you will be serving items such as these for a longer period than this, set out a smaller bowl and then replace it with another one when it is empty. Do not add fresh dip or salsa to dip or salsa that has been sitting out. Refrigerate and use up any that has not been served within three to four days of preparation.
Salsa canning basics. Canning your own salsa recipe or changing the proportions of ingredients in a tested salsa recipe can be unsafe. The types and amounts of ingredients used, as well as the preparation method, are important considerations in how a salsa is canned. Improperly canned salsas or other tomato-pepper combinations have been implicated in more than one outbreak of botulism poisoning. If you don't have a tested recipe or proper canning equipment, you might try freezing your salsa. Be aware there may be changes in texture and flavor after freezing and thawing. Try freezing a small amount the first time. Herbs and spices may taste better if they are added fresh just before serving.
Source:  Authored by or Adapted from Lisa Franzen-Castle, PhD, RD, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Nutrition Specialist. Healthy Bites Newsletter

Friday, April 29, 2016

What to Do With Those Leftovers in the Refrigerator

What To Do With Those Leftovers in the Refrigerator 
Got some leftovers languishing in your refrigerator? Or perhaps little bits of foods that are almost past prime time to eat. Read on if their next stop is likely to be the trash can. Give new life to still edible foods with our gallery of delicious ideas. As a general rule, use leftovers within 3–4 days. 

Meat, Vegetables, Pasta

Search your fridge for foods that can be combined into a soup. Add extra cooked pasta

or rice at the end, so it heats through but doesn’t become mushy from overcooking. Keep some chicken stock or canned, diced tomatoes on-hand for a quick soup base. 


Transform slightly dried-out bread into croutons: Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly brush top side of bread with olive oil. If desired, sprinkle with Italian seasoning. Cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch cubes, leaving the crusts on. Spread in a single layer on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake on middle shelf of the oven for 5–10 minutes or until lightly browned and crisp. No need to turn croutons during baking. 


Use up those odds and ends of harder cheeses by shredding them with a grater or in a food processor. Check your refrigerator for other ingredients to include such as olives, pickles, pimientos, walnuts, red or green peppers, etc.; add low-fat mayonnaise to bind ingredients and use as a sandwich spread. 

Fruit, Yogurt

Chop and combine those last pieces of fruit. Flavored or plain yogurt — perhaps sweetened

with a little honey and a splash of vanilla — makes a tasty dressing. Other possible add-ins

include the remainder of that package of nuts and those final bits of dried fruit. 


A general guideline is to use eggs within 3 weeks after purchasing them for best quality. Gain extra storage time by boiling the eggs. Hard-cooked eggs, will keep in their shell for 7 days in a clean covered container in the fridge. They make a quick high quality protein source for a meal such as in main dish salads and sandwiches. 

Source:  Alice Henneman, MS, RDN, Extension Educator, Lancaster County Extension, Lincoln, Nebraska

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Cooking for One or Two

Cooking for One or Two
If you’re now cooking for one or two with the same recipes you used for a larger family, you may struggle with eating the leftovers. They may still taste great by the second day, but by the third or fourth day, perhaps, not so much. The good news is many recipes can be cut in half or thirds. Here are some guidelines to help you adapt a larger recipe to a smaller one.
  • It may be easier to make the entire recipe for baked goods and freeze half.
  • When reducing recipes, you may need to use smaller sauce­pans, skillets and baking pans. The time for baking smaller amounts of food may be less.
  • The standard size egg for recipes is the large egg. To halve an egg, break it, mix it together with a fork and use 2 table­spoons. Refrigerate the rest and use in an omelet or scrambled eggs within two days.

  • A 9 x 13 x 2-inch pan holds 14–15 cups; when halving a recipe use a square 8 x 8 x 2-inch pan or a round 9 x 2-inch pan. When using a different pan size, try and keep the depth of food the same. Reduce the oven temperature by 25°F when substituting a glass pan for a metal one.
    Source:  Alice Henneman, MS, RDN Extension Educator, Lancaster County Extension, Lincoln, NE