29 Aug

Oh, the sweet potato…What an absolute delight! Discover the tasty treat hiding under that earthy brown skin…we bet you won’t regret it.

(image source: blogs.dickinson.edu)


Sweet potatoes are tuberous root vegetables that have smooth skins. They can vary in color, depending on the variety, from pale yellow to deep purple to vivid orange. The flesh of sweet potatoes can range in color from light yellow to pink, red or orange. Sweet potatoes are often confused with yams (often because in the US a sweet potato variety is commonly marketed and sold as a yam).


  • Sweet potatoes are fat free, saturated fat free, and cholesterol free.
  • Sweet potatoes are also low in sodium.  
  • Sweet potatoes are a good source of dietary fiber and they contain complex carbohydrates, which means consumption will not cause spikes in blood sugar.  
  • Sweet potatoes are high in vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, potassium, and iron.  


Choose firm, small- to medium-sized potatoes with smooth skin.  Avoid cracks, soft spots and blemishes.


Before cooking sweet potatoes, scrub skin with water and trim off any bruised or woody portions.

Ways to enjoy

  • Sweet potatoes can be baked, boiled, fried, broiled, canned or frozen. 
  • Sweet potatoes can also be cooked in the microwave oven.
  • Make sweet potato chips, fries, salad, or pancakes. 
  • Mash, roast, steam, or grill sweet potatoes.  Top with a little maple syrup, honey, brown sugar, or lime juice.  


Store sweet potatoes in a cool, dark place for use within 3-5 weeks.


If you’re eating out, make the switch to sweet potato fries. Numerous restaurants in Champaign-Urbana serve up excellent sweet potato fries. 




(image source: hort.purdue.edu) 


Produce for Better Health Foundation. (2011). Fruit & Vegetable Nutrition Database. Retrieved from http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/?page_id=164

North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission. (2011). About Sweet Potatoes. Retrieved from http://www.ncsweetpotatoes.com/


Sweet Corn

22 Aug


Sweet corn is a delicious vegetable grown right here in Illinois!  Nothing says late summer/fall like biting into a fresh ear of sweet corn.  You will see yellow corn, white corn, and bi-color corn!

Fun fact: the average ear of corn has 800 kernels, arranged in 16 rows. There is one piece of silk for each kernel.


  • Corn is low fat
  • Corn is saturated fat free, sodium free, and cholesterol free
  • Corn is a good source of vitamin C


Choose ears with green husks, fresh silks and tight rows of kernels


Peel away the husks, remove silk, boil about 5 minutes, and enjoy!  Or leave the husks on and grill them!

Ways to Enjoy

  • Add corn to your soup
  • Add corn kernels and diced tomatoes to guacamole or salsa
  • Try this corn relish recipe

Corn, chopped red onion, chopped red and green peppers, pinto beans and tomatoes

  • Sauté cooked corn in a small amount of olive oil with green chilies and onions
  • Check out this video for a great way to prepare corn for kids:



Refrigerate corn with husks on for use as soon as possible or within 1-2 days.


Grilled Corn on the Cob


Oven Roasted Corn on the Cob


                                                                                    (image source: tasteofhome.com)

(image source: foodnetwork.com)


Produce for Better Health Foundation (2011). Fruit & Vegetable Nutrition Database. Retrieved from http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org


15 Aug


Cantaloupes are melons with a cream colored skin and orange inside!  They can range from 1 to 11 pounds!


  • Cantaloupe is fat free, saturated fat free, and cholesterol free
  • Cantaloupe is very low in sodium
  • Cantaloupe is high in vitamin A & C
  • Cantaloupe is a good source of folate


Choose fragrant, symmetrical cantaloupes, heavy for size with no visible bruises and yellow or cream undertone. Stem end should give to gentle pressure.


Cut open the melon, scoop out the seeds & pulp, slice and enjoy!

Ways to Enjoy

  • Add cubes of melon to your skewers
  • Cantaloupe is a perfect addition to any salad
  • Place a peeled slice of cantaloupe on a plate, pile on slices of banana and your favorite berries, and top with a scoop of low-fat frozen yogurt
  • Try this easy summer salad

Combine cubed mangos, avocados, and cantaloupe with red onion, a splash of 100% orange juice, lime juice and                    cilantro


Store uncut cantaloupes at room temperature for up to 1 week. Refrigerate cut melon in airtight container up to 5 days.


Cantaloupe Crunch


 Tons of Cantaloupe Recipes can be found here:


(image source: edibleblog.com)


Produce for Better Health Foundation (2011). Fruit & Vegetable Nutrition Database. Retrieved from http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org

Farmers markets spur job growth, new report finds

11 Aug

Farmers markets spur job growth, new report finds

As the economy limps along, farmers markets are showing record growth, and that growth could bring thousands of jobs with it.

Tue, Aug 09 2011 at 11:29 AM EST

busy farmers market Photo: Phil Roeder/Flickr
In a dismal week for the U.S. economy featuring debt-ceiling drama in Washington and the threat of a double-dip recession on Wall Street, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) delivered some powerhouse statistics demonstrating the public’s demand for healthy, organic food: The number of farmers markets in the country increased 17 percent in the last year. “There’s a yearning for the 99 percent of Americans who are no longer connected to the farm to reconnect,” Kathleen Merrigan, deputy secretary of the USDA, said.
The timing is perfect — this week marks National Farmers Market Week — and comes on the heels of a new report finding that farmers markets could generate thousands of jobs in the U.S.
The details
The 2011 USDA Farmer’s Market Directory lists 7,175 farmers markets, and Merrigan says the number is probably even higher because some markets don’t self-report. The states with the most markets include California, New York, Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Massachusetts. And, though not on the top 10 list, Alaskan farmers markets increased 46 percent over last year, and Texas, Colorado, and New Mexico were each up 38 percent. As an indication that shoppers are indeed searching for more local, organic food, Merrigan said more than 2 million people have searched the USDA Farmer’s Market Directory so far in 2011.
“Farmers markets are just growing exponentially,” said Merrigan, who highlighted farmers market innovations, particularly those that bring healthy produce to low-income areas. One such advancement is the increase in farmers markets allowing electronic benefit transfers (EBT), so people receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, formerly known as food stamps, can purchase fresh, healthy food at farmers markets. Many of these markets are moving into food deserts, areas without grocery stores that sell fresh produce and where the few stores that do sell fresh vegetables are bodegas and corner stores with a high mark-up. (Note: Many of the USDA programs that help boost farmers markets numbers and bring healthy food to people could be on the chopping block in the 2012 Farm Bill.)
Along with the USDA’s new statistics, the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) released an report finding that farmers markets could be a much-needed antidote to high unemployment. Their economic analysis found that even modest public support for up to 500 farmers markets annually would create up to 13,500 jobs in a five-year window, bolstering local and regional food systems. “On the whole, farmers markets have seen exceptional growth, providing local communities with fresh food direct from the farm,” says Jeffrey O’Hara, the author of the report and an economist with UCS’s Food and Environment Program. “But our federal food policies are working against them.” He adds that tens of thousands more new jobs could be created if the government would just divert a small fraction of the subsidies that are currently doled out to industrial farms to farmers markets.
What it means
Since the majority of farm subsidies go to industrial farming — USDA dished out nearly $13 billion for commodity-crop insurance and supplemental disaster assistance — the farmers market phenomenon has come about with relatively little government assistance. The irony here is that the U.S. is subsidizing a farming system that ultimately makes us sick and contributes to taxpayer-funded problems like obesity, flooding and hard-to-treat superbug infections linked to factory farming, all of which increase government spending even more.
Despite a grossly unlevel playing field, the number of farmers markets nationwide more than doubled between 2000 and 2010, and the Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that now more than 100,000 farms sell food directly to local consumers. As the group’s recent report found, those farms need workers and people to help get their food to consumers.
So what is it about farmers markets? Why are people swarming to them? Merrigan believes it’s the combination of a few things:
1. The desire to reconnect with farms.
2. The availability of fresh and unusual and heirloom products. (Merrigan referenced the delicious ugli heirloom tomato, one that doesn’t ship well cross-country, so you won’t likely find it in a grocery store.)
3. People’s interest in community. Farmers markets aren’t just about food, but also meeting your farmer, listening to local musicians and creating new relationships.

Bell Peppers

8 Aug


Bell peppers come in all sorts of colors- green, red, yellow, orange, and purple!  The deeper the color, the sweeter the pepper.


  • Bell peppers are fat free, saturated fat free, and cholesterol free
  • Bell peppers are low in sodium
  • Bell peppers are high in vitamin C


Choose firm, brightly colored peppers with tight skin that are heavy for their size.  Avoid dull, shriveled or pitted peppers.


Check out this video on preparing bell peppers:


Ways to Enjoy

  • Stuff ‘em.  Make a mixture of beans, brown rice, vegetables, meat- you pick!… then stuff your bell peppers, bake, and enjoy
  • Dice any color bell pepper and top your pizza before baking
  • Add bell peppers to any stir-fry
  • Eat them raw- alone or add to a salad
  • Brush with olive oil and grill them


Refrigerate bell peppers in a plastic bag for use within 5 days.


Check out these yummy recipes:


(image source: sweetandsourspectator.org)


Produce for Better Health Foundation (2011). Fruit & Vegetable Nutrition Database. Retrieved from http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org

Stradley, Linda (2011). What’s Cooking America. Retrieved from http://whatscookingamerica.net

Common Ground Food Co-op

4 Aug

Want fresh, local produce any day of the week, check the produce section at Common Ground Food Co-op!

What is a Co-op exactly? Check out the Co-op’s website to find out: 



2 Aug

Curtis Apple Orchard is a great, family-friendly apple orchard located in Champaign, IL.  Curtis Orchard features pick-your-own apples and pick-your-own pumpkins.  There are about 5000 trees at Curtis and picking is available from late July to early November.  Other activities include a petting zoo, lunch in the Flying Monkey Café, a playground and toddler area, country store, and live entertainment on Sunday afternoons.  Check it out for an afternoon of fun!

(image source: curtisorchard.com)

Curtis Apple Orchard Facts

Curtis Apple Orchard has been in the Curtis Family hands for over 85 years, evolving from prairie to farmland to apple orchard over the years.

Curtis Apple Orchard is not organic, but it is as close to organic as possible for the Midwest climate region.  Curtis uses Integrated Pest Management (IPM) methods to:

  • Monitor conditions in the orchard and pumpkin patch.
  • Apply sprays only when necessary.
  • Target only pests that represent a threat.

Location and Hours

Curtis Orchard
3902 S Duncan Rd
Champaign, IL 61822

Visit www.curtisorchard.com for more information about apples, activities, etc. at the orchard.


    Monday–Saturday 9am–6pm
    Sunday 11am–6pm
    Monday–Saturday 9am–5:30pm
    Sunday 11am–5pm 

Apple Schedule at Curtis

(source: curtisorchard.com)

(image source: curtisorchard.com)


1 Aug


Nothing beats a fresh, juicy, red tomatoes right out of the garden!  But they come in other colors too- red, yellow, & orange!  Check out below for a fried green tomato recipe.  Tomatoes some in all shapes and sizes too.


  • Tomatoes are low fat & very low in sodium
  • Tomatoes are saturated fat free & cholesterol free
  • Tomatoes are high in vitamin A & C
  • Tomatoes are a good sources of potassium


Choose tomatoes with bright, shiny skins and firm flesh.


Just wash & slice, dice, quarter, or cube!

Ways to Enjoy

  • Just slice and eat them fresh!
  • Try this healthy tomato vinaigrette

In a blender, combine a chopped tomato, 2 Tablespoons of vinegar (white wine or balsamic), 1 Tablespoon                                olive oil, ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard, and your favorite herbs (basil, thyme, etc)

  • Stuff tomatoes with a filling of your choice
  • Make salsa- here is one to try:

Chopped fresh tomatoes, finely chopped jalapeno peppers, chopped cucumber, 1 small onion, chopped                                       cilantro and lime juice.  Add black beans, corn, or chopped olives if you want!

  • Slice tomatoes about ½ inch think. Sprinkle with seasoned breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 until tomatoes are almost soft.


Store at room temperature away from direct sunlight, for use within 1 week after ripe. Tomatoes taste best if not refrigerated, refrigerate only if you cannot use them before they spoil.


Fried Green Tomatoes

Fried green tomatoes are a southern tradition made famous by the movie of the same name. They are so popular in the south that gardeners plant extra slicing tomatoes to be harvested green for this recipe.

4 green tomatoes, cut in 1/4-inch slices
1 cup flour
1 egg beaten with cup skim milk
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 teaspoon each salt and black pepper
Canola oil for frying

1. Assemble ingredients. Spread flour on a sheet of waxed paper or on a plate. Put the egg wash in a shallow dish.

2. Spread the cornmeal on a sheet of waxed paper or plate, add salt and pepper, and mix well.

3. Dredge the tomato slices in flour and shake off the excess.

4. Dip each slice in the egg wash and drain off excess, and then coat with the cornmeal, shaking off excess gently. Place on a tray and set aside.

5. Heat the oil in a large heavy (preferably cast iron) skillet over a medium flame. When hot, add the tomato slices. Do not overcrowd the skillet. Cook several minutes, until golden, then turn. Drain on paper towels and serve while still hot. Makes 5 servings.

Grilled Tomato Kebabs

Small tomatoes such as cherry, current or pear tomatoes are best eaten raw or briefly cooked. They are perfect for skewering and grilling because they do not fall apart, unless overcooked. If you are using wooden skewers, soak them for 30 minutes in cold water before using.

36 small tomatoes, such as Cherry, Ping Pong, or Yellow Pear
1 tablespoon olive oil
teaspoon each, salt and black pepper
1 tablespoon dried oregano
Six wooden or metal skewers

1. Wash and drain tomatoes. Using a paper towel, dry each or spread on towels and allow to air dry so the oil will stick to the skins

2. Place the dry tomatoes in a large bowl. Drizzle with olive oil, and season with oregano and pepper. Toss to coat tomatoes.

3. Thread 6 tomatoes, spaced at least an inch apart, on each of the 6 skewers.

4. Brush hot grill grate with oil to prevent sticking. Arrange skewers on grate. Grill 2 to 4 minutes. Turn and grill the other side for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove skewers and sprinkle with salt, if desired. Makes 6 servings

(image source: makeitfromscratch.blogspot.com)


Produce for Better Health Foundation (2011). Fruit & Vegetable Nutrition Database. Retrieved from http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org

University of Illinois Extension. (2011). Watch Your Garden Grow. http://urbanext.illinois.edu/veggies/tomato.cfm



28 Jul

Silvercreek is a unique, natural wood-and brick restaurant that prides itself in its knowledgeable and competnet culinary staff.  It is a great location for casual fine-dining.  They use fresh, local ingredients and all of their artisan breads are baked from scratch every day.  The have a vast variety on their lunch and dinner menus and a long wine and beer list to match!


402 N Race St




Lunch: Monday – Saturday 11am-3pm


Dinner: Monday – Thursday 5-10pm; Friday – Saturday 5pm-11pm; Sunday 5-10pm


Brunch: Sunday 10am-2:30pm


Check out their menu here.


27 Jul


Broccoli is a hardy vegetable of the cabbage family this is high in vitamins A and D.  It develops best during cool seasons of the year.  Fun fact: BROCCOLI is worth 12 points in scrabble!


  • Broccoli is low fat & low in sodium
  • Broccoli is saturated fat free & cholesterol free
  • Broccoli is high in vitamin C & folate
  • Broccoli is a good source of dietary fiber & potassium

Selection & Storage

Choose odorless broccoli heads with tight, blush-green florets. Refrigerate broccoli and use within 3-5 days.

Check out this video of broccoli selection & storage:



Just wash and cut broccoli into smaller pieces

Ways to Enjoy

  • Steam broccoli for 2-3 minutes- this is a great way to lock in all the nutrients!
  • Eat it raw- by itself or in a salad
  • The stalks are nutritious too!  Cut them up and add to your favorite soup or casserole
  • Add broccoli to your stir fry
  • Grate broccoli stalks and add them to your favorite cole slaw recipe
  • Try this easy pasta dish:

Blanche broccoli florets and add to your favorite whole wheat pasta salad before chilling, or toss with a little olive oil and add to hot pasta for a delicious and filling dish


Steamed Broccoli with Lemon-Dill Dressing

1 bunch broccoli (about 2 pounds)

3 carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch strips

Lemon-Dill Dressing

6 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Zest of one lemon, grated or minced

¼ teaspoon black pepper (optional)

1 teaspoon dried dill weed or 3 teaspoons fresh dill

Salt to taste

Wash, trim stems from broccoli and peel, cut into strips the same size as carrots. Cut florets into small uniform pieces and set aside. Prepare carrots and set aside. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. (Or prepare the steamer) Add carrots and broccoli stems. Cook for one minute. Add broccoli florets and boil two minutes longer. Do not over cook. Drain, and rinse under cold running water, drain again. Place in a large bowl and gently toss with dressing. Serve immediately. Makes six servings.

Broccoli Stir-fry

  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seed oil
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, broken or chopped coarsely
  • 1/4 cup chopped green onions with tops (optional)
  • 4 cups broccoli florets
  • 1/4 cup red pepper strips
  • 2 tablespoons lite soy sauce

In a large heavy, skillet heat oil until hot. Add walnuts and onions and stir-fry for one minute tossing constantly. Add broccoli and continue to toss for three to four minutes. Add red pepper strips and soy sauce and continue to cook one minute longer. Serve immediately. Makes six servings.

(image source: urbanext.illinois.edu)


Produce for Better Health Foundation (2011). Fruit & Vegetable Nutrition Database. Retrieved from http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org

University of Illinois Extension. (2011). Watch Your Garden Grow. http://urbanext.illinois.edu/veggies/broccoli.cfm