Category Archives: Kitchen Tips

Cabbage, Potatoes and Cheese Skillet Casserole

Cabbage, potatoes and cheese skillet casserole recipe

Photo by Alice Henneman

I was intrigued by this recipe I found on USDA’s “What’s cooking? USDA Mixing Bowl“. And, decided to try it with the local, seasonal foods I had on hand this week: Cabbage, potatoes and onions. The recipe said it made 5 servings; however, there were just two of us. We ended up eating every bit of it at one meal … there was something about the flavor that was tasty yet a comfort food type of feeling. Maybe it was the melted cheese and walnuts on top?

Try it and see what you think … the recipe follows.

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Freezing Peppers for Future Meals

How to freeze peppers for future meals.

An assortment of peppers available at a local farmers’ market.

(Reproduced from an article by Alice Henneman, MS, RDN at

Bell or Sweet Peppers (Green, Red, Yellow, Orange, Purple)

  1. Select crisp, tender peppers.

    How to tray freeze peppers for future meals.

    Tray freezing raw peppers

  2. Wash.
  3. Cut out stems and cut peppers in half.
  4. Remove seeds and membrane — save time by using a melon baller or the tip of a spoon to scrape out seeds and membrane.
  5. Cut peppers into strips, dice or slice, depending on how you plan to use them.
  6. Freeze peppers in a single layer on a cookie sheet with sides, about an hour or longer until frozen. This method is often referred to as “tray freezing.”
  7. Transfer to a “freezer” bag when frozen, excluding as much air as possible from the bag. The peppers will remain separated for ease of use in measuring out for recipes.
  8. Pour out the amount of frozen peppers needed, reseal the bag and return to the freezer.

Hot Peppers (including Jalapeno Peppers)

Wash and stem hot peppers. Package, leaving no headspace. Seal and freeze. It is not necessary to cut or chop hot peppers before freezing.

Caution: The National Center for Home Food Preservation warns, “Wear plastic or rubber gloves and do not touch your face while handling or cutting hot peppers. If you do not wear gloves, wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before touching your face or eyes.”

HOT TIP: If your mouth is burning from eating hot peppers, help put out the fire with milk and other dairy products.

Storage Time

To extend the time frozen foods maintain good quality, package foods in material intended for freezing and keep the temperature of the freezer at 0 degrees F or below. It is generally recommended frozen vegetables be eaten within about 8 months for best quality.


Sprinkle on Cheese for Added Nutrition and Taste


potato c

Corn Chowder with Cheese

One of the staples I keep in my refrigerator is shredded cheese. Shredded cheese is a tasty way to add calcium to foods. An added bonus is it often adds an extra splash of color such as in this soup.

Other foods I enhance with a sprinkle of cheese include:

  • Salads
  • Omelets
  • Bean dishes
  • Baked potatoes
  • Nachos
  • Tacos
  • Casseroles
  • Pasta

Shredded cheese comes in several varieties and is available in both regular and reduced fat versions.

So … if you’re looking for an easy way to kick up the flavor, nutrition and color of foods, just SAY CHEESE!

(Note: Find the recipe for the Corn Chowder in “What’s Cooking? USDA Mixing Bowl. It’s really quick and easy to make and is thickened by the addition of low-sodium cream style corn.) 


How Long Can You Store Commercially Canned Food?

Image courtesy of USDA Image Library

Image courtesy of USDA Image Library

Commercially canned foods are convenient as they require no refrigeration to keep their contents safe. Their nutritional value is comparable to other forms of food such as frozen and fresh. In some cases, it may be higher.

The question that people often our Nebraska Extension office, is “how long can you keep canned food”? This article on “Shelf-Stable” Food Safety,” from the U.S. Department of Agriculture answers this question and more. For example:

  • Is it safe to use rusted cans?
  • Is it safe to use food from dented cans?
  • Is it safe to use cans that freeze accidentally?

So … the next time you wonder if you “can” use the food from that can, check out Shelf-Stable” Food Safety!

Secrets of Success when Cooking with 5 Ingredients

5-Ingredient Waldorf Salad (link to download the recipe)

5-Ingredient Waldorf Salad (link to download the recipe)

Five seems to be the magic number for the number of ingredients we want in a recipe. This excludes such common ingredients as salt, pepper and water. While researching recipes for a workshop on 5-ingredient cooking, I found the recipes I chose had at least one of the following qualities. See if these criteria help you find quick, easy, tasty recipes too!

  1. Use the best-tasting ingredients whenever possible. It’s hard to hide a poor quality ingredient when there are only five of them. For example, freshly ground black pepper tastes much better than pre-ground.
  2. Try to include at least one high intense flavor ingredient. Examples include:
    • Mustard (consider Dijon)
    • “Sharp” cheeses (you can use less because the flavor is more potent)
    • Lemon juice or lemon zest
    • Onions, garlic, celery
    • Olives
    • Capers
    • Vinegar
    • Nuts
    • Pickle relish
  3. Use some pre-prepared foods that can take the place of several ingredients. Compare the labels on the various brands and varieties as the sodium level can vary significantly. Examples include:
    • Salsa
    • Sauces: spaghetti, pizza, marinara, enchilada
    • Commercial salad dressings (flavorful, lower-fat varieties)
    • Low-fat granola
    • Pie dough, graham cracker crust, pizza dough
  4. Consider seasoning blends. Examples include:
    • Italian seasoning
    • Salt-free blends – sample in the smallest container-size the first time.
  5. Keep on hand ingredients that can be used several ways. Some of my favorites are:
    • Vanilla and plain Greek Yogurt
    • Diced tomatoes (no-added-salt)
    • Canned beans (no-added salt)
  6. Refrigerate some mixed foods (like dips) at least an hour, to allow flavors to blend.
  7. Roast meats and vegetables until “caramelized” or browned. This brings out the flavor.
  8. Thickening a soup without making a white sauce:
    • Remove some of the soup solids and liquid and puree in a blender. Cooking Light magazine (March 2003) warns when blending hot liquids to use caution because steam can increase the pressure inside the blender and blow the lid off. They advise filling the blender no more than half full and blending in batches, if necessary. And, while blending, hold a potholder or towel over the lid.
    • Sprinkle on some instant mashed potato flakes at the end and stir. Add more until you get the consistency you want.

Slow Cooker Meals

Moroccan Beef and Sweet Potato Slow Cooker Stew

Moroccan Beef and Sweet Potato Stew (slow cooker recipe)

Imagine walking into your kitchen after a busy day and being greeted by the scent of cinnamon, garlic and onions signaling “dinner is ready!”

Unless you have a cook at home who prepares meals for you, using a slow cooker is the easiest way to achieve this state of well-being!

Moroccan Beef and Sweet Potato Stew is one of my favorite slow cooker meals. I just measure, chop and toss in everything at the same time. (Source: Cattlemen’s Beef Board and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association)

As you search out slow cooker recipes, here are some tips for optimum nutrition and taste.

If you can’t find reduced sodium or “no salt added” canned dry beans, rinse and drain canned beans. This will remove about 40 percent of the salt content.


Rinse and drain canned, cooked dry beans to reduce sodium content

If a recipe calls for spices or herbs you may not use much, purchase small  containers to save money. The smaller sizes will also help you use the seasonings by their recommended usage date, when they will be most fresh.


Buy small containers of spice you are likely to use less often

Cut foods into similar size pieces. This ensures they will finish cooking at the same time.


Cut foods into similar sizes for even cooking

Look for broths and stocks that are lower in salt. The flavor of the ingredients may shine through more if a food isn’t so heavily salted. You can pass the salt shaker and let people decide for themselves.

Beef broth label

Look for foods lower in added salt

For more tips on cooking with a slow cooker, check out this self-paced slide show:

NOTE: If you are getting this information through your email, you may have to click through to the web version to view the slide show.

Things on My Kitchen Counter

Bananas on Kitchen Counter

Recently we had new kitchen counters installed at our house. In taking everything off the counters, I began to re-evaluate what I was going to put back!

What was really important to me and would help me cook quick, healthy meals? And (this is an important AND!) … would make my kitchen a pleasant environment for cooking.

Kitchen organizers recommend only keeping items you use several times weekly or a daily basis on top of your kitchen counter. Here’s what made the cut and stayed on top of my counter.

Two-Tiered Fruit Stand

Several fruits continue to ripen at room temperature. This inexpensive 2-tiered  fruit stand (shown above) offered an attractive counter-top storage space. Fruits that benefit by room temperature storage as they ripen to perfection include avocados and tomatoes (botanically, they are fruits), kiwifruit, nectarines, peaches, pears, bananas, and plums.

Place a counter-top fruit stand in a clean, dry, well-ventilated place, away from direct sunlight and away from areas where meat is prepared.

Canisters for Garlic, Onions, and Potatoes

It’s recommended storing garlic, onions, and potatoes in a well-ventilated area in the pantry. Protect potatoes from light to avoid greening.

But what if you don’t have a pantry?

I found some storage canisters on the Internet that allowed ventilation and prevented light from reaching the potatoes. And … they looked attractive on my kitchen counter.

There also are several brands of decorative cloth storage sacks that provide ventilation and protect from light. Some of the sacks can even be hung from the wall. Individual plastic or wire baskets work well in a pantry.

The holes in these canisters provide ventilation for my potatoes, onions, and garlic.

The holes in these canisters provide ventilation for my potatoes, onions, and garlic.

Oh, Grill of Mine!

Research by Washington State University found the best method of safely grilling meats is using a double-sided (clam-shell) type grill that cooks both sides of the meat at once. These grills also are one of the fastest and easiest means of grilling meat. And, they are easy to clean … especially nice when someone else in the house helps by cleaning up after you cook!

An added benefit of a clam-shell grill is the ease of taking the temperature of thin cuts of meat from the side. According to an U.S. Department of Agriculture study, 1 out of every 4 hamburgers turns brown in the middle before it reaches a safe internal temperature. Using a food thermometer is the only way to assure a safe temperature. Check this USDA chart for safe minimum internal temperatures.

It is easy to insert an instant read thermometer into meat on a double-sided (clam-shell) grill to check its temperature while it is cooking.

It is easy to insert an instant read thermometer into meat on a double-sided (clam-shell) grill to check its temperature while it is cooking.

Dish rack

At our house, there are almost always dishes in the dishwasher; dishes waiting to go in the dishwasher in one of our sink basins; and the other basin is in use cleaning fruits and vegetables, rinsing items. etc.

At the same time, there are items that need to be hand washed for various reasons. Our dish rack was always out.

Then, I discovered on the Internet several decorative dish racks that actually look attractive sitting on your counter-top.

If your dish rack has taken up permanent residence on your counter top, it's possible to find one that is both functional and decorative.

If your dish rack has taken up permanent residence on your counter-top, it’s possible to find one that is both functional and decorative.

Mixer and Food Processor

There are some items, such as my mixer and food processor, that are too heavy to keep lifting in and out of storage.

Along with my counter-top make-over, I gave them an update also. They are now protected from dust and have their accessory parts conveniently located in pockets with these covers.

An Internet search for “mixer cover” or “food processor cover” will locate several options for these items.

Covers for heavy counter top mixers and blenders help keep them clean and dust-free. There are lots of colors, so you can match them to your kitchen decor.

Covers for heavy counter-top mixers and blenders help keep them clean and dust-free. There are lots of colors, so you can match them to your kitchen decor.

I’d love to hear from you in the comment section what you keep on YOUR kitchen counter!