Tortillas stacked o a plate on top of a table with flour and a rolling pin. Contains an orange I block logo and Illinois Extension wordmark.

I recently noticed while looking through my recipe apps that I tend to save a lot of recipes involving tortillas. I credit that toward the versatility of tortillas and the fact that the kid in me still loves hand-held foods.

A half of an avocado face up against a pink background.

I can’t say that I ever tasted an avocado as a child, nor did I even know what it was. However, a lot has changed over the last forty years! The demand for avocados has certainly increased, and in fact, avocados are now frequently a babies first food! This unique fruit is often consumed more like a vegetable, as it’s not sweet like most other fruits. An avocado has a buttery flavor and creamy texture that when perfectly ripe, enhances the food it accompanies.

A wooden spoon with prunes along with prunes spilled on the table. Contains orange I block logo and Illinois Extension wordmark.

Are you a prune lover like me but feel you must eat them in secret for fear of people assuming you have digestive issues going on? Prunes are so good at what they do (preventing constipation) that they get a bad rap for it, because let’s face it, no one wants to talk about that. They are often associated with the older generation and in fact, most young people have never even had a prune. As a result, some plum farmers and manufacturers of prunes prefer to label their product as “dried plums” to avoid the stereotype.

Five eggs on a cloth. Contains orange I block logo and Illinois Extension wordmark.

Do you like hard boiled eggs? Do you like pickles? Then why not try pickled eggs? When there is an abundance of eggs and you’re not sure what to do with them, pickling will help them last for several weeks. However, it’s important to note that the only safe method for storing your pickled eggs is in the refrigerator. While you may come across recipes for canning eggs, or you spot a jar of pickled eggs for sale, there is no safe, research-tested method to canning eggs at home.

A cutting board with stacks of carrots, sugar snap peas, and a bowl of cucumbers. Contains blue I block logo and Illinois Extension wordmark.

Sugar snap peas hold true to their name; they are both sweet and crunchy. Sugar snap peas are members of the legume family. While all beans, including peas, grow in pods, sugar snap peas do not naturally split open when ripe. They are harvested when their pods reach full length, and their peas are about the size of a BB. They should be sweet, juicy, and tender; left on the vine too long and they’ll become too tough to eat. Like snow peas, we eat the entire pod. However, snow peas differ from sugar snap peas in that they are flat with much smaller peas inside the pod.

Stack of feta cheese blocks on a plate beside a bowl of sugar. Contains orange I block logo and Illinois Extension wordmark.

As part of Mediterranean cuisine, feta cheese is used in a wide variety of dishes. Originally from Greece, feta cheese is made with sheep’s milk, but may also contain up to 30% goat’s milk. However, most of the feta cheese made and sold here in the United States is made from cow’s milk, certainly giving it a different, often milder, flavor than authentic feta. Feta cheese has a creamy white color and crumbly texture. Depending on the age of the cheese, it’s either a soft or semi-hard cheese that crumbles when pressed and is sold as either blocks or crumbles.  

Bowl of tan-colored bulgur with a spoon, with some of the bulgur spilled on the table. Contains orange I block logo and Illinois Extension wordmark.

Bulgur wheat may not be the most common grain in the grocery store, but it’s about time we gave this whole grain a try. Bulgur starts with wheat berries, the raw, simplest form of wheat. These kernels are then hulled, partially cooked, and dried before packaging. Unlike wheat berries, which may take an hour or more to soften, bulgur is much more convenient since it has already been parboiled. In fact, prepare bulgur much like you would instant rice: bring bulgur and water to a boil, cover and simmer about ten to twelve minutes, fluff with a fork, and voila!

Pair sliced in half, with one half facing forward and the other half facing backward, set on a white tablecloth. Contains Illinois Extension wordmark and orange "I" logo.

As a registered dietitian nutritionist, we often tell people to “eat the rainbow.” There is good reason for this as it’s a reminder to include a variety of foods in our diet, especially produce that is deep and dark in color. It is true that many darkly colored foods, offer a large amount of antioxidants, substances that prevent damage to our cells. Hence collard greens, kale, spinach and even romaine lettuce all have more antioxidants than iceberg lettuce.

Three cinnamon sticks stacked over a pile of ground cinnamon on a dark table. Contains an Illinois Extension wordmark and orange I logo.

Cinnamon is my absolute favorite spice; it’s my go-to candle scent, my favorite flavor of gum, and it’s generally the largest spice container in my spice cabinet. Cinnamon comes from the inner bark of various species of Cinnamomum trees. Ceylon cinnamon is known as “true cinnamon” but the cinnamon that we buy at the grocery store is almost always Cassia cinnamon. The inner bark of the tree is dried until it curls up into rolls known as “quills,” which are sold as cinnamon sticks. It can also be ground into powder or made into an extract.

Woman cutting into a whole chicken on a platter. Measuring cups behind the platter. Contains an orange I logo and Illinois Extension wordmark

Buying a whole chicken, rather than its individual parts, offers many potential benefits. However, to some people, even the mere thought of reaching into a dead bird’s carcass to pull out the liver, heart and gizzards is enough to put the brakes on and reach for the more convenient, less “icky” option of purchasing separate pieces.

A garlic press on top of a table with fifteen to twenty cloves of garlic behind it. Includes an orange I and Illinois Extension woodmark.

Most self-proclaimed foodies, like myself, will collect all sorts of kitchen gadgets. Over the years, I’ve learned which kitchen tools are indispensable, and which kitchen tools sit in the drawer unused.

Overhead view of a cup of tea

What’s a non-coffee drinker to drink from the local café? Chai has become a popular beverage for those looking for an alternative to coffee. While our western culture refers to it as “chai tea,” in India we are drinking masala chai. “Chai” is the Hindi word for tea, while “masala” refers to spice. This hot drink is made by brewing black tea with milk, sugar, and spices.

A sliced orange in front of a whole orange

While oranges are a citrus fruit that can be found all year long, they peak over the winter months. This is a time where you can usually find more variety of oranges and at a lower cost than in off season months.

Roasted carrots and potatoes on a baking sheet

You may remember learning about the Maillard reaction in science class at school. You probably didn’t know it then, but the Maillard reaction is something you see or use every day. It’s what makes food so delicious, turning bread into toast, giving broccoli a sweeter flavor when roasted, producing grill marks on a steak, or even roasting coffee.

Array of fruits, meats, nuts, and cheese on a charcuterie board

It’s all the rage right now. Charcuterie (pronounced shar-koo-tuh-ree) boards are the latest conversational piece at the holiday party. In the simplest terms, it’s a tray loaded with all sorts of finger foods, commonly eaten as an appetizer. Think cured meats, cheeses, crackers, nuts, veggies, fruits, pickled items, sauces, and spreads. The term “charcuterie” refers to the culinary art of preparing cured meats, meat that is ready to be eaten. As such, charcuterie boards most often contain meats like salami, prosciutto, summer sausage, ham, or cured chorizo.

Bowl of red-colored soup with a spoon and green garnishes set on a black table.

At the first hint of cooler weather, there will be those (me included) running to the kitchen to make a pot of chili. It can be made a thousand different ways, each person claiming they have the secret ingredient that makes their chili win the beloved chili cookoff. There’s no right or wrong way to make chili, but there are a few things you can do to make it healthier.

Oatmeal in a white bowl with two spoons

When I was growing up, we had an old black walnut tree next to our driveway that would drop walnuts causing me to trip over them while chasing my brother. I loathed this tree, especially when it was my turn to mow the grass, as I had to first rake the walnuts, wasting more of my precious time. Little did I know that we could have used these annoying nuts for delicious food. However, they’re a hard nut to crack.

A spread of different vegetables including brussel sprouts, carrots, bell peppers, potatoes, and garlic on a white table.

Locally grown foods aren’t shipped thousands of miles, which reduces the carbon footprint, supports our local growers, and offers tastier, more nutritious food. When food doesn’t have to travel far, it can be picked ripe, and eaten soon after harvest, retaining more nutrients and flavor than food picked unripe and stored for a longer period.

A wooden spoon full of wheat germ with text

If you’ve ever heard of adding wheat germ to your foods, you may have wondered what it is and why you would add it. Wheat germ is simply a component of the whole grain wheat kernel. In fact, all whole grains are composed of the bran, the endosperm and the germ. Each component contains valuable nutrients.

Sliced zucchini on a cutting board with text

This blog post was written by Illinois State University graduate student and dietetic student, Shelby Holt.

With the rising trends surrounding ‘zoodles, this famous squash is growing more popular every day! Zucchini is a low-calorie summer squash, free of sodium, cholesterol, and fat. It is grown and prepared best from June through October. While most people would consider zucchini a vegetable because of the way we cook, prepare, and eat it, zucchini is botanically considered a fruit!

A wicker basket with an assortment of green and black grapes. Text says, 'the great benefits of grapes'.

Grapes are a popular fruit in my household, as they’re easy for my kids to snack on. Thanks to many seedless varieties, they don’t require any peeling or slicing, they’re not messy, and they’re deliciously sweet. Illinois grapes are available July through October. Unlike many other fruits, grapes will not continue to ripen once picked so you should harvest them when plump and juicy. If you’re not consuming local grapes, chances are your grapes were grown in California, the top grape producing state in the U.S. 

A row of tacos with text that says, 'taco time'.

Americans have a love for tacos. Whether they’re served at the family dinner table, a business meeting, or as a late-night snack at a local bar, tacos have made their way as being one of America’s most adored food. Afterall, any time of the day is the right time of the day to eat tacos!

A side view of a BLT sandwich with bread, mayonnaise, bacon, tomato, and lettuce. Text says 'crafting the perfect BLT'

If you had to name one summer sandwich, chances are you’d name the ever-famous BLT. Not a summer goes by without me making this super simple sandwich. If you don’t already know, BLT stands for bacon, lettuce, and tomato, which are the key ingredients to this lunch icon. Of course, one could say bread and mayo are also important elements, but I guess BLTBM just doesn’t sound as appetizing!

A bunch of tomatoes of various shapes and colors in a wooden box. Text says 'How to use your heirloom tomatoes'

Is it pronounced toMAto or tomAHto? Is it a fruit or a vegetable? There are so many questions when it comes to tomatoes! But there’s one thing I think we can all agree on: the taste of a fresh garden tomato is no comparison to store-bought tomatoes that were picked unripe and traveled thousands of miles to their destination.

A tray of green beans set in front of an air fryer.

This blog post was written by Illinois State University graduate student and dietetic intern, Joo Yee Lim.

A person's hand is shown pouring balsamic vinegar into a white bowl.

Once I discovered how to put balsamic vinegar to good use, this vinegar fought it’s way from the depths of rarely used ingredients in my kitchen pantry, to the easy-to-reach shelf, directly in front and right next to the olive oil. It flavors most all my vegetables from Brussel sprouts to carrots to green beans and more.

A bunch of daikon radishes with green stems attached

Most people are familiar with radishes, those red-skinned, white-flesh, peppery vegetables often found on a salad bar. However, there are many other radishes, such as the daikon radish, that look completely different and yield a slightly altered taste.

A spoon scooping ghee out of a glass jar. Flowers on the table around the jar.

You may have heard about a type of fat, often used in Indian and Asian cuisine, called ghee. It’s been touted as having many health benefits, including decreased inflammation and improved digestion. However, is there any evidence to support these claims?

a campfire in the forest

I recently took my family on a weekend camping trip, where we experienced the great outdoors. We enjoyed the beautiful nature, the company of family and of course, the food. While we had the typical hot dog and hamburger meals, with two young children, I still got the request of “pizza.” No oven? No problem! There are a lot of meals that can be made over a campfire or grill.

A white plate with gold silverware and text that says "are you tired of cooking, too?"

I recently had a few conversations with friends and coworkers that all talked about how they are tired of cooking. I, myself, joined in or even started the discussion of feeling burned out. More time at home over the past year has evolved into more meals being prepared at home, but the enthusiasm and creativity have run their course. How can we get energized for planning and making meals again without sacrificing a healthy lifestyle? My friends and colleagues brainstormed together to create a spark that many of us need.

Person looking at a recipe book

Have you ever started working on dinner to later realize you don’t have an ingredient? How about the time you realized you were supposed to let the meat marinate in the refrigerator overnight? These are classic examples of not fully reading the recipe well before mealtime. How does the story end? Either a not-so-yummy meal or a quick run through the drive-thru.

Overhead view of a bowl of oatmeal with fruit, a cup of coffee, and avocado on a cutting board.

Like in most subject areas, there will always be myths, particularly when it comes to food and health. Here are five nutrition myths I am happy to debunk.

1. Carbs are bad for you. Carbohydrates serve as your body’s preferred source of energy for daily tasks and it provides fuel for the brain. Healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and dairy provide carbohydrate. Choose these carbs more often than refined carbs (white breads and pastas, pastries, sweets and sodas).

A maroon bowl with refried beans

Refried beans may not have the most appealing look, but their creamy delicious taste makes up for it. They are traditionally made from pinto beans, but black beans may be prepared this way as well.

Five different scoops of different colored protein powders.

Protein powders can be spotted on the shelves of supplement stores, pharmacies, fitness centers and big box stores. Perhaps you’ve wondered if you should be bulking up on protein powder, too.

A stack of granola bars on a white plate.

This blog post was written by Nutrition & Wellness intern, Kelley Herman. 

Bowl of couscous with slices of red bell peppers and basil

Couscous (pronounced kūs kūs) has made a notable mark in North American cooking. While many believe that it is a type of grain, such as rice or barley, it is actually a type of pasta. (Hint: some grocery stores may stock couscous in the pasta section, but most will often stock it in the grain section, next to the rice).

A white bowl full of poppy seeds.

If you’ve never seen poppy seeds, you may wonder what these tiny dark specks are doing all over your bagel. Poppy seeds are often used in baked goods, giving the product a slight nutty, sweet/spicy taste, a crunchy texture, and a unique decoration.

Casserole and green beans on a white plate

This blog post was written by Illinois State University graduate student and dietetic intern, Emily Kearney. 

Fiesta casserole is a quick and easy weeknight meal that is ready in 30 minutes. It can be made in one pot or a skillet, so the cleanup is minimal. Fiesta casserole makes for a healthy and comforting winter meal that will appeal to the entire family.

Stack of pancakes with blueberries and raspberries

When “flapjacks” somehow came into our family dinner conversation, I asked my six-year-old son if he knew what they were. He promptly said, “Yeah, it’s square, and it’s sweet.” Confused, I went straight to Google, and lo and behold, pictures of square oat bars popped up. While it’s true that in the states, flapjacks mean pancakes, in the U.K. they mean a chewy granola bar made with oats, golden syrup, brown sugar, and butter. I may have been schooled by a six-year-old, but I certainly won’t tell him that!

Peanut butter in a glass jar with a spoon full of peanut butter on top.

This blog post was written by Illinois State University graduate student and dietetic intern, Emily Kearney. 

Mashed sweet potatoes in a bowl

Squish it. Smash it. Smoosh it. Our very first taste of solid food most likely came in a mashed or pureed form. However, as we have aged into adults, we must not forget that we can still enjoy our inner-baby’s love of mush. Here are four mashed foods that shouldn’t be stopped when the high chair gets put away.

One sliced apple and two whole apples beside a pitcher of glass pitcher of apple cider vinegar

If you type in “apple cider vinegar” into any search engine, thousands of results touting its alleged health benefits will pop up. There are claims that it promotes weight loss, improves digestion, aids in heartburn, improves heart health, lowers blood sugar levels, and much, much more. However, while there may be some evidence to support these health claims, the research is simply limited and not enough to warrant a dosing recommendation.  

Fish tacos next to limes and a bowl of guacamole

Most people couldn’t be happier to start this new year; a fresh start and a step away from a year that dared to isolate and defy our self-contentment. The most common New Years’ resolutions include exercising, eating healthy and losing weight, and after such a challenging year, likely even more people are looking for ways to shed those quarantine pounds. However, is the diet approach your key to a healthier body and feeling of self-worth?

A pot on a stove with steam coming off the top

This blog post was written by Illinois State University graduate student and dietetic intern, Kayla Kaspari.

Before you go out and grab a pre-made bite to eat, make a healthy meal in one pot! One-pot meals make cooking easy, fun, and they make cleanup a breeze!

Cutting board with avocado, tomatoes, mushrooms, and various other vegetables

This blog post was written by Illinois State University graduate student and dietetic intern, Kayla Kaspari. 

Many cultures (Mediterranean, Latin, Asian) and diets (vegetarian) are rooted in meatless, plant-based meals. Some individuals never consume meat, while others limit meat for health or personal reasons. In the United States, we are a very meat and potato society, where meat is often thought of as essential at every meal. I personally like the idea of dedicating one day a week as a meatless day (i.e. Meatless Mondays).

Chickpeas on a baking sheet

This blog post was written by Illinois State University graduate student and dietetic intern, Kayla Kaspari. 

Garbanzo beans, also known as chickpeas, are a part of the legume family and are grown similarly to soybeans or peas. These plants produce edible seeds, called pulses, that have high nutritional value. They are a cousin of black beans, lima beans, kidney beans, and peanuts. You may know chickpeas better for their presence as the main ingredient in hummus. They have a mild nutty flavor and a firm texture that when ground makes a creamy and delicious dip.

Tomato basil salad on a blue plate

This blog post was written by Illinois State University graduate student and dietetic intern, Kayla Kaspari. 

Assortment of green herbs laid out on a wooden cutting board.

One of my favorite ways to use fresh herbs is to add them to different drinks. It brings a completely new dimension to what may already be a familiar drink. It can be as simple as adding mint to your iced tea, basil to your lemonade or rosemary to your orange juice.

Various pieces of food creating a bunny face (pretzel sticks for whiskers, kiwi slices for ears) on a white plate.

Originally discovered in China, kiwifruit found it’s way to producers in New Zealand, Italy, Chile and in the United States, California. While today’s generation is growing up with kiwi available at the grocery stores all year round, many generations had never heard of this funny looking fruit. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that kiwifruit started becoming popular in the U.S.

Which condiment do you grab? Sriracha, classic chili sauce or maybe a sweet red chili sauce? These are all examples of different kinds of chili sauce, some of which are excellent for dipping our favorite finger foods. Chili sauce is a blend of puréed or chopped chili peppers, vinegar, sugar and salt. Each type has their own unique taste that compliments certain foods.

Chicken salad sandwich with lettuce and bread, set on a napkin on top of a table.

Summer is a good time to enjoy a meat salad or egg salad sandwich. A cold sandwich that differs from the standard deli meat or pb&j, is a welcomed item on the lunch menu. Of course, the classic diner favorite can be a high calorie offender, depending on the ingredients used.

A bundle of thyme sprigs in a white bowl set on a white wooden table.

Now is the thyme to enjoy fresh herbs. I have been enjoying the bounty of my herb garden, which my husband and I planted in a garden box made out of a recycled wooden pallet. It sits just outside our back patio for easy access. Thyme is an herb that we plant every year, as I use it in so many dishes. 

spoon with heart

As Valentine’s Day approaches, you may find yourself reflecting on relationships. Positive relationships, whether with a partner, child, parent or friend, can be strengthened by doing activities together. This holiday, consider cooking a meal with your loved one, which can be just as nourishing for the relationship as it is for the body.

Basil leaves on a wooden table.

Pesto isn’t just for the fine dining of the rich and famous. Rather, it can be a part of the regular ol' American family dinner.

While it may seem like a fancy and unnecessary addition to an otherwise tasty meal, its bold taste can elevate a food to a whole new level. Take a simple grilled chicken, for example: even when seasoned with a dry rub, it is just ordinary chicken. But when pesto is spread on top, it creates a completely different dish.

How to make pesto

The best part of pesto is its simplicity. Only four ingredients are needed: