gifts from the kitchen including pomander balls, chai, homemade tea bags and roasted nuts

When I think about the holidays, I think about getting crafty in the kitchen. Making food-related gifts for friends and family is a fun way to share your creative side and put a personal touch on the holiday season. In the past I have gifted home-preserved cranberry-orange chutney, herb ornaments, limoncello and my famous homemade chocolate-dipped peppermint-orange marshmallows.

turkey dinner

Have you always brought dessert to the holiday gathering? Maybe you are not used to preparing a full meal, but this year may be different. Enjoy the holidays with a new twist this year. If you are cooking a full meal for the first time – You can do it!

This can be a daunting task. Plan and strategize and pull this dinner off without a fuss. Have fun cooking with members of your household and enjoy the leftovers (or planned overs).

oat-based recipes including overnight oats, savory oats, and oatmeal bars.

Oats can be found in many cultural dishes such as Scotland’s haggis and Muesli from the Swiss. Oats have been a popular addition to many recipes and a staple food source for centuries.

Oats are an extremely versatile whole grain and can be added to many recipes, from breakfast to beverages. Here are some of my favorite ways to incorporate oats:

Apple Pie Filling in Mason Jars

It’s apple season! The leaves are changing colors, and your local orchards are filled with apples. Drying apples for chips, freezing apples, and canning apple pie filling are all great ways to enjoy fall flavors all year round! Extension offices have received numerous calls asking for safe canning recipes for pie filling. One of the main ingredients in canning pie filling is Clear Jel®, a flavorless modified corn starch that works as a thickener for canning pie filling. Clear Jel® doesn’t break down through the canning and eventual baking process.

Nutrition and Pumpkins

Whether used in a savory soup, added to quick breads, or your beloved family pie, pumpkins are a fall favorite for many, and very versatile.

This fruit is packed full of key nutrients our bodies need. Yes, I said fruit. Fun fact, although pumpkins have a nutritional profile like that of a vegetable, they are botanically a fruit since they contain seeds.

Track your activity, sleep, and now handwashing. Yes, there’s an app for that! Handwashing can be a challenge. In today’s world, you can enlist the assistance of an app for handwashing direction and detection. Handwashing apps are available for download to your smartphones through the app store. The newest technology for handwashing includes the smartwatch. A first of their kind, these smartwatches use built-in motion sensors, microphones, and a countdown timer technology.

Image of family surrounded by images related to a healthy lifestyle

Although we know developing healthy routines and daily habits are beneficial, their true worth is often overlooked. However, these incredibly important aspects of daily life have significant influence on our long-term quality of life. With Americans living longer, it is more important than ever we strive to live a healthy lifestyle to truly enjoy our golden years.

plant based protein options

More interest has surrounded meat alternatives and reducing the use of animal products recently. One concern about meat alternatives is they may not provide enough protein to meet protein needs. However, that is not the case. Plant proteins can be excellent sources of protein. Plant proteins are also full of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that make them a healthy choice. Plant proteins are full of fiber which can help keep you full longer, curb cravings, and aid digestive health. That’s not all fiber can do. The soluble fiber found in plant proteins can help lower cholesterol.

steam canner photo collage

I couldn’t be happier with my steam canner which I purchased 3 years ago. I most often use it for making jams and salsa. Being that it’s made out of aluminum, it is light-weight and easy to use. The boiling-water canner is quite heavy when full and takes longer to reach a rolling boil. The steam canner, however, takes much less time to heat up since it only holds 6-8 cups of water. I highly recommend giving it a try!

photo of tomatoes

It’s almost tomato time! As I look at my raised garden bed, I am patiently waiting on my cherry, Rutgers, and Early Girl tomato plants to ripen. I plan to can pint jars of tomatoes that are perfect for making spaghetti sauce and chili, dehydrate tomatoes when I don’t have enough ready to can, roast and freeze cherry tomatoes, and use fresh tomatoes for salsas and BLT’s. My mouth is watering just thinking about it! If you have a garden full of tomatoes, what are your plans on using them?

Blanching broccoli for freezing

Freezing has many benefits. It maintains the fresh flavor, natural color, and nutritional value better than canning or dehydrating. Plus, it is easy, convenient and requires less time compared to other food preservation methods. Making it an excellent way to preserve the summer harvest.

Photo of pregnant woman

Making healthy food choices will help you and your baby’s overall health. What you eat during pregnancy can affect your growing baby. Choosing nutritious foods will help ensure your baby has the best start in life. Eat a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy and protein foods. The MyPlate guidelines can help you choose nutritious foods that are right for you.

During the first trimester, eat

Variety of Apples

There are over 7,500 different varieties of apples worldwide. In the United States, 2,500 different types of apples are available. Apples are grown in all 50 states. For the first time in 50 years, the Gala apple beat out Red Delicious as America’s favorite apple. Did you know the Illinois state apple is the Gold Rush? With so many different varieties to choose, knowing which ones are best for freezing, drying, or making apple sauce can be difficult. This list emphasizes the best apples for quality and flavor.

slicing apples

Apples are a fruit available all year, but taste the best when freshly picked from a local orchard or picked up at a farmers markets in the fall. Whether making apple butter, sauce, pie, salad, drying, freezing, canning, or cutting them up to snack on later, one universal struggle is slicing them fast enough before they start turning brown. Working against the clock in the kitchen to peel and prepare apples before they start browning can feel stressful.

Apples on a cutting board

Are you patiently waiting for the apple season? The abundance of apples may come from an apple tree, a visit to the orchard or a local farmers market, or your local market. Right now in Illinois, the hot summer sun is preparing this delicious fruit for the harvest season.

Many apple varieties are available all year. In Illinois, the apple harvest season runs July to  November. During this time, I find local varieties that I look forward to each year, such as McIntosh, Ever Crisp, or Blushing Gold.

Working at home on your laptop

Are you spending too much time sitting at your desk these days? This is true for many who have been working at home for the last few months. It’s important to take a break and step away from the computer, literally! Take a walk, take a break from the sitting time, you will feel better.

photo of pickles

Sour, sweet, bread and butter, Kosher dills, spears, chips, sliced on a sandwich, or as a snack or side dish. Pickles are everywhere!

Pickling is an ancient form of food preservation, dating back to 2030 B.C. when cucumbers from India were pickled in the Tigris Valley. The word “pickle” comes from the Dutch pekel or northern German pókel, meaning “salt” or “brine.”

photo of jellies

This summer is the perfect time to resurrect the time-honored practice of making jams and jellies. Many of us are able to spend more time at home and family schedules are more flexible.

Maybe you planted a garden or have access to a farmers market. If you are a novice to food preservation, jam is the best first project. All you need is fruit, sugar, pectin, and a few basic kitchen tools and you are on your way to delicious jam! Right now, strawberries are in season, to be followed by cherries, blackberries, and grapes. You can make jam all summer long!

healthy immune system from eating fruits and vegetables

Psssst…. Did you hear? Word on the street is that pineapple juice is a cure for the COVID-19 virus!

Is that true? Can you reduce your risk of getting sick by choosing specific foods? Well, there is no such thing as a free lunch, and if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. That is the case with our bodies and how they fight illness.

You have heard that the best defense is a good offense and it is never more true than with our immune system. If we keep our bodies well fed, they are better able to fight off infections more effectively and efficiently.

Horizontal dehydrator with trays of drying apples and tomatoes

Our statewide nutrition and wellness team is hosting the "Fill Your Pantry" webinar series from June 3 to July 22. The "Drying at Home" webinar will be on June 24. Register at go.illinois.edu/preserveathome.

 

photo of canning jars

Canning season is upon us! While many are busy planting their summer gardens, others are already preparing to harvest spring vegetables, herbs, and berries. Canning is a great way to use the foods you have grown in your garden or have purchased from your local farmer’s market. Moreover, canning allows you to enjoy the wonderful tastes of summer all year long while keeping food safely preserved on your shelf.