wreath

The holidays come with much anticipation and excitement, as well as a little dread. The dozens of holiday cookies, the variations of fabulous fudge, and the finest candies around, are sure to excite the taste buds. But when these goodies have you surrounded each day from November to January, the dread of the holiday pounds weighs you down. Here are some holiday tips to help you gain control.

potatoes

Sour cream has so many uses that it’s often a refrigerator staple from January to December. It adds richness and acidity to both savory and sweet dishes. It’s similar to it’s substitutes, yogurt or crème fraiche, yet remains a distinctive ingredient.

vegetables

Turning fresh fall veggies into fabulous favorites can happen with roasting, a simple cooking technique. Roasting allows vegetables or other foods to develop a crispy crust on the outside while creating a subtle sweetness. This is due to the magic of caramelization.

tempeh

As many people are realizing the health benefits of plant-based diets, plant-rich proteins are becoming more popular. While tofu is more widely known as a meat substitute, tempeh is not far behind. Tempeh, like tofu, is made from soybeans. The soybeans are cooked, fermented and then formed into a firm block that resembles a nougat. While tempeh may not sound or look very appetizing, fans of this tofu cousin enjoy it for its versatility and nutrient density.

pumpkin

Pumpkin season is in full swing, and while great for decorating and carving, pumpkins are also considered a superfood, offering many health benefits. In fact, the seeds, fruit and greens have each been known to be used in herbal medicines. The pumpkin flesh is a valuable source of both vitamin A and fiber, which will help to boost immunity, support weight loss and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, cancer and arthritis. Just one-half cup of canned pumpkin provides 200% of daily vitamin A needs.

porridge

Along with the Keto and Whole 30 diets, the Paleo diet is currently trending in popularity. Also called the “caveman” or “stone-age” diet, it’s based on the idea that today’s farming practices are not what they were when our ancestors ate 10,000 years ago. Paleo diet supporters believe in the hypothesis that our bodies have not been able to adapt to a modern diet, and thus is a contributing factor to the prevalence of diabetes, heart disease and obesity. However, there is no scientific evidence supporting these claims.

squash

One of the most popular foods in the fall is named for a different season: winter squash, particularly acorn squash. While still a popular pick in the winter, acorn squash in Illinois is generally harvested in late summer to early November. It’s the first fall food I go for after decorating my house with pumpkins and fall décor.

pumpkin seeds

I recently ordered some pumpkin seeds online, but when I opened up the package, I realized that they were not the pumpkin seeds I had in mind. I was expecting to see cream-colored, oval-shaped seeds, like the ones you’d dig out of a jack-o-lantern, but instead I received greenish, small seeds without a cream-colored hull. They resembled a sunflower seed only a tad bigger. It dawned on me that I had actually ordered pepitas.

Mexican Tart

Sometimes it takes a culinary dictionary to read the recipes in a cookbook, particularly a cookbook that is a little more “fine dine and wine.” You may have come across terms, such as galette, crostata or tart and wondered what the difference is, if any. 

Pea Soup

Split peas look like lentils, but are they? Split peas are a member of the legume family, as are lentils. However, split peas are an actual field pea that is dried. Once dried, the outer skin of the pea is removed and the pea is split in half. Lentils, on the other hand, are the seeds found in the pods of a small annual plant.

Olive Oil

Have you ever felt that you needed a guidebook when shopping at the grocery store? With so many different varieties of the same product to choose from, it can be difficult to know which one to buy. In the world of olive oil, many types stock the shelves; let’s find out which one is at the head of the class.

pyramid

U.S. News and World Report gathered a panel of nationally recognized experts where they compared 41 different diets and ranked them based on how easy it is to follow, its ability to produce short-term and long-term weight loss, its nutritional completeness, its safety and its potential for preventing and managing diabetes and heart disease. Do you want to guess what diet took the top prize?

Salad

Dieting is nothing new to the U.S., but various diets fly in and fade away. Atkins, South Beach, and the Zone are just a few of the fad diets that have come and gone. So what makes a diet stick around, and more importantly, how do you know if a diet is safe and effective?

Cold lunch

It’s back to school time, which means the kids are either excited or groaning. Either way, it’s back to packing lunches for the days that school lunch just won’t do. The only problem: those cute little unicorn and super-hero themed lunch bags are often filled with empty calorie foods. Individual bags of cheddar crackers, fruit snacks, snack cakes and prepackaged trays filled with either crackers, meat and cheese, or mini pizzas and a small candy bar, are just a few of the foods that fill a school cafeteria.

Homemade Bread

It’s easy to feel a bit of anxiety when faced with the many varieties of flours in the baking aisle of the grocery store. All-purpose, bleached, unbleached, self-rising, and a whole lot more line the shelves. Let’s explore the differences.

ginger

Fresh ginger is one of the most common spices used in the world. It’s believed that Indians and Chinese were the first to produce ginger root where it was primarily used to treat many ailments. While not really a root, ginger is in the same family as turmeric, both of which are grown for their rhizomes, an underground stem that sends out roots or shoots. The rhizome is the part you eat. 

lime

Give your dish, drink or dessert a squeeze of fresh lime for an added sense of freshness and a pop of tartness. Limes grow on trees in warm climates. Similar to lemons, limes are a citrus fruit with a low pH; this means limes are very acidic, making them an influential cooking ingredient.

While your plants in the garden are coming to fruition, it's time to start thinking about harvest. When the bounty is ready, there's not much time to waste. Loads of produce can come ready all at once, and without a plan in place, they sadly could go to waste.

As the season for weight loss diets is now in full swing, you may be wondering if the ketogenic, or keto, diet is one to embark on. The ketogenic diet is one of the newest weight-loss strategies to surface the media, but it's actually been around since 1920 as an effective treatment for epilepsy in children.

Olives have been a part of the Mediterranean region since biblical times. Here in the United States, California takes the prize of olive production, producing 95% of the olives grown in the nation. Table varieties include Manzanilla, or black "California-style," Sevillano and Ascolano. Mission and Arbequina varieties are generally best suited for olive oil. The average consumer may not care so much about the variety, but rather the color and processing treatment. Green olives are simply unripe olives, while naturally black olives are picked fully ripe.

One of the most familiar fruits to children and adults alike is the banana. It's no wonder it winds up on most people's grocery list trip after trip; with a peel that can come off in a matter of seconds, it serves as a convenient and quick snack option for those at home or on the go.

The Easter Sunday meal most notably includes a delicious ham with a heaping scoop of scalloped potatoes on the side. Or is it au gratin potatoes? Both of these rich, creamy dishes consist of round thinly sliced potatoes layered in a casserole dish. It's no surprise they often get confused for one another.

Most people have never cut into a coconut, but have still eaten coconut in at least one of its many forms. The most profitable product of the coconut is coconut oil, which is used in many beauty care products and recently, it has gained momentum as a popular oil to use in cooking. But it's the actual "meat" of the coconut that many people still gravitate towards to get the most coconut flavor.

Used for more than 5,000 years, turmeric is native to Southern Asia and known as a major ingredient in curry recipes. This spice has been trending from food magazines to talk shows to social media, but what's all the buzz about?

Recent trends in food appliances have people learning how to cook in more than just an oven. Pressure cookers, air fryers and high-powered blenders are just some of the latest machines to hit the market, but it's the sous vide (pronounced sue-veed) cookers that have most people intrigued.

When Cinco de Mayo rolls around, the cravings of Mexican cuisine are in full force. Tomatillos are a staple in Mexican cooking, bringing a zesty tart flavor to many classic dishes.

Despite the meaning of the name (tomatillo means "little tomato" in Spanish), tomatillos are not tomatoes, but rather a member of the solanaceae, or nightshade family. However, they are relatives of the tomato, pepper and eggplant, which all thrive in hot, humid weather. Tomatillos have a papery husk on the outside and a green firm fruit on the inside.

While it may not feel like it now, spring is just around the corner. The avid gardener is already thinking about what type of produce they will plant in the garden. Bell peppers are a given for many, but what color?

Power to the flower. Capers may not look like a beautiful flower, but they are in fact the flower buds of the wild bush, Capparis spinosa. They're actually picked before they bloom into white or pink flowers. Like olives, the caper bush is native to the Mediterranean region, and thus capers are a common ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine.

As the bucket of leftover candy still sits in my cabinet from last year's Halloween, I'm secretly hoping that my children do not bring home any more of the sweet stuff for Valentine's Day. Candy is one food that contributes to high intakes of added sugars in children's diets.

Jicama (pronounced Hee-kah-ma) may also be referred to as a Mexican Turnip. Native to Latin America, this vegetable is the root of a plant that produces seeds or "beans." However, these beans are not for eating. Other than the flesh of the jicama, the stems, leaves and seeds are toxic, which naturally wards off hungry insects. Peel the thick, brown skin with a sharp knife to get to the white flesh inside, which is safe to consume!

A hot summer day is the perfect time to enjoy a refreshing bowl of gazpacho. This classic Spanish soup is one of the few soups that is served chilled. There are many variations to this ancient dish, but the modern version usually consists of tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, garlic, cucumbers and olive oil.

While pineapple is delicious canned, many people agree that fresh pineapple takes the prize in flavor. This tropical fruit is generally available year round in the United States, with the majority imported from Costa Rica. Its scales on the thick outer skin are actually the fruit's flowers. One pineapple is made up of a cluster of individual flowerets that fuse together to form the entire fruit. Contrary to popular belief, pineapples do not grow on trees, but rather they come from a flowering plant.

A pineapple's scaly skin can be intimidating to cut. Practice these steps:

Morels are the mushroom hunter's prey. Depending on the weather and location, the first Illinois morels of the season may begin to appear in late March to early April and generally ends in May. Morels are difficult to cultivate, thus are generally gathered in the wild rather than farmed. It may be rare to find them in stores or even on a restaurant menu, and when you do, be prepared to pay a hefty price. A local grocery co-op is selling them for $50 per pound, which is actually not a bad rate.

Barbecue, BBQ, barbeque. Talk about confusing! Not only does the word "barbecue" have multiple spellings, but it also has multiple meanings. "Throw it on the barbecue." This implies a cooking method where food is cooked outdoors, generally on a grill. "We're having a Memorial Day barbecue." In this instance, barbecue is a gathering where food is cooked outside over a fire, on the grill, or in the smoker. "Let's have barbeque pork sandwiches." Here, barbecue refers to a type of food, usually a meat covered in a sweet or tangy sauce.

Ramen noodles: You are so much more than the rectangular block of noodles and seasoning packet that lay in most college dorm rooms, waiting to be microwaved and eaten. You deserve the accolades that come with being the rich, intricate bowl of goodness that you are.

If you're a kitchen gadget guru, or just a person who wants to put quick, delicious meals on the table, you must be in love with all the new modern kitchen gadgets and appliances on the market. The air fryer is just one of the ways you can enjoy delicious food with a little help from modern science.

Springtime is the perfect time to enjoy fresh peas. Experience the flavors of the three most common type of peas: English peas (also called garden or sweet peas), snow peas, and snap peas.

"Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet, eating her curds and whey…" Wait. What are curds and whey? If you answered cottage cheese, you're right. The curd is the lumps and the whey is the liquid. While it may not sound very appetizing, cottage cheese has some health benefits to consider.

A few months ago, I had the privilege of participating in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. It was a unique opportunity to gain new perspectives and an understanding of diverse cultures, but I must say, I particularly enjoyed the moment of quietude. It was here that I had my first sip (and slurps) of matcha tea.

The fresh crab selection in Illinois is dismal. Head to the coast of Alaska, and you may have better luck finding this delectable species of seafood. However, the United States is still the largest importer of crab. That's no surprise as over 90% of the seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported from other countries, and due to its limited local availability, it comes with a hefty price tag.

I grow parsley in my garden year after year. There are so many uses for this herb that I can't imagine having to constantly buy it at the store. To me, parsley is so much more than just a garnish!

In honor of St. Patrick's Day, we eat or drink green food. Why? I'm sure there is tale to tell, but my eyes are too fixed on all the green to care. Green food is generally associated with optimal nutrition and good health, but I'm not talking about beer or eggs that's been dyed green. Natural green foods, colored by the pigment chlorophyll, are foods we should eat more than just one day a year. Here are my top three green foods:

For whatever reason, spring is the time to clean. (Let's just hope that it's not the only time you clean!) A deep scrubbing is necessary, particularly in the refrigerators of home kitchens, where bacteria can thrive. Spoilage bacteria (bacteria that causes deterioration in foods) slows down but can still grow at refrigeration temperatures (think moldy or slimy food). Pathogenic bacteria (bacteria that can lead to serious illness and death) can actually thrive in refrigerators; the scary thing is, you can't even see it.

The school year has come to a close, which means now is the perfect time for picnics and barbeques. This kickoff to the unofficial start of the summer is also the debut of summer foods, including the ever-loving pasta salad. The best part about pasta salad is its diversity. Do you want a creamy white dressing or a vinaigrette? Olives or no olives? Meat or no meat? Cheese or no cheese? Macaroni, penne, bowtie or other shape of pasta? And what type of veggies? The options are endless.

Most grocery stores keep one variety of yellow squash and one variety of zucchini on their produce shelves year round. However, the farmers market is a probable summer spot to find a bigger variety of summer squash, varying in different shapes, sizes and colors.