Peanut Butter Challenge Champion

Peanut Butter Challenge Champion

Peanut Butter Challenge Champion
Picture credit: Angela Hinkle

So you say you never win anything? Taking the Peanut Butter Challenge is a competition you’re guaranteed to win.

You can help feed the hungry in Florida’s Panhandle this year by donating peanut butter during the annual Peanut Butter Challenge, coordinated by UF/IFAS Extension. Thanks to a partnership between UF/IFAS Extension and the Florida Peanut Producers Association, food pantries from Pensacola to Monticello will receive thousands of jars of donated peanut butter this December.

From October 1 through November 22, you can donate unopened jars of peanut butter at your UF/IFAS Extension county office. Since 2012, UF/IFAS Extension faculty and volunteers have collected jars of peanut butter from residents, volunteer groups, and businesses in 16 northwest Florida counties. Last year, UF/IFAS Extension county offices received 3,236 jars of peanut butter! In addition to these donations, the Florida Peanut Produces Association also contributes, supplying more than 3,000 jars each year to the Challenge.

We hope to surpass last year’s total! This year, citizens throughout the Florida Panhandle counties are asked to help by donating peanut butter and becoming Peanut Butter Challenge Champions.

“The Peanut Butter Challenge not only raises awareness about the important contribution of North Florida’s peanut growers to the state peanut industry, but also helps provide a healthy, locally produced product to food-insecure families in northwest Florida,” said Libbie Johnson, Agricultural Agent in Escambia County.

Why peanut butter? Peanut butter is the most requested item at food pantries. See to learn more. A serving of peanut butter is loaded with protein, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and “good” fats. Peanut butter is a shelf-stable item – meaning it does not have to be heated or refrigerated. And people really like the taste.

How do you become a Peanut Butter Challenge Champion? Look for peanut butter BOGOs and other discounted sales at your local stores. Keep a jar for yourself and give the other unopened jar(s) to the Peanut Butter Challenge.

Voila! Everyone’s a winner! And you may proudly say, “I am a Peanut Butter Challenge Champion!”


Selecting and Cooking the Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey

Remove the lid or foil for the last 30 to 45 minutes of roasting time to get that gorgeous golden-brown color. Add thick veggies such as carrots, potatoes, and Brussels sprouts to the roasting pan for additional flavor.

Photo credit: (Creative Commons License)

According to the National Turkey Federation, 88% of American families eat turkey on Thanksgiving. That’s over 46 million turkeys! Served as the main dish, it is complemented by a variety of sweet and savory side dishes, many of which are family traditions made from recipes passed down through the generations.

Why do we eat turkey on Thanksgiving, anyway? Well, it’s kind of a funny story. While historians generally agree that turkey wasn’t eaten at the First Thanksgiving in Plymouth in 1621, it was well-documented that settlers often hunted wild turkeys as a source of protein, and subsequent celebrations often included turkey. After President Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863, turkey became a staple on many Thanksgiving tables.

When choosing a turkey, there are a few decisions to make. How many people will be eating? Will it be roasted, smoked, or deep-fried? Is frozen or fresh preferred?

When it comes to the proper size, a pound per person is a great rule of thumb. This includes the total weight of the bird, not just the meat. Also, the ratio of white meat to dark meat is about 7:3 (70% white meat, 30% dark), so if there are a lot of dark meat lovers around the table, additional thighs and drumsticks may need to be purchased.

Roasting is the most common way to cook a turkey. This method involves placing the turkey in a large roasting pan and cooking it in the oven slowly over several hours. The turkey is usually placed breast-side up in the pan and basted periodically to prevent drying. The lid or foil is also removed the last 30 to 45 minutes of roasting time to brown the skin and give the turkey that gorgeous presentation.

Vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, or Brussels sprouts may be added to the roasting pan to cook concurrently. For best results, roast the turkey at 325˚F for 15 minutes per pound. For example, a 15 pound turkey would take 3 hours and 45 minutes.

Smoked turkeys are usually fully cooked (read the label to be sure) and just need to be reheated. Keep in mind, smoking is done to impart flavor and does not increase the turkey’s shelf life. Follow the instructions on the package to properly reheat the turkey.

Deep-fried turkeys are submerged in very hot oil and cook more quickly than roasted turkeys. Turkeys can be deep fried in a very large stockpot or in a designated turkey fryer. Only use enough oil to cover the turkey. Too much oil can cause a fire or overflow when the turkey is added to the cooker.

To determine the amount of oil, place the turkey in the cooker and add enough water to cover the bird. Then remove the bird. The water line will indicate the level of oil needed to adequately fry the turkey. For best results, let the turkey warm to room temperature before frying, and fry the turkey for 3 minutes per pound plus 5 minutes per bird.

Remember, the size of the cooker will dictate the size of the turkey. The turkey should fit easily without being forced. Wedging a turkey into a cooker that is too small could cause uneven cooking, or worse, a fire.

As for frozen versus fresh, there is no difference in flavor. However, frozen turkeys can be purchased months in advance and kept frozen until needed. Fresh turkeys should be purchased no more than two days in advance for maximum safety and freshness.

The safest way to thaw a frozen turkey is in the refrigerator. This will take pre-planning. The general rule of thumb is 24 hours of refrigerator thawing per 5 pounds. For example, a 15 pound turkey should take 3 full days (72 hours) to thaw completely.

However the turkey is cooked this year, have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Frozen Foods in the 21st Century

Frozen Foods in the 21st Century

With the mention of a frozen dinner, do you feel nostalgic and think of the options from when you were a child? When was the last time you perused the frozen food section of the grocery store? The freezer aisle now contains over 3,700 different food options, according to the National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Association (NFRFA). Items range from your favorite ice cream to vegetables that are packaged and frozen at the peak of freshness. You can find a single-serving option or even a complete family meal.

The NFRFA touts “frozen foods include healthy produce, perfectly-portioned meals, a variety of ethnic cuisines and dishes to meet strict dietary needs.” Test kitchens are full of chefs creating meals that are available for the “hungry man” or for those seeking proper portions. The portion-perfect meals are dietician/nutritionist-approved and provide balanced options in a quick, convenient package.

If variety is something you seek, not a problem – the freezer section can provide this. There are breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, and even snack options available. Frozen meals also can help to decrease food waste, thanks to single-serving packaging options.

Are you concerned about the nutritional content of frozen fruits and veggies? According to the National Library of Medicine, whether fresh or frozen, “the single ingredient version of the same fruits and vegetables revealed relatively equivalent nutrition profiles.” Technology has optimized the freezing process, enabling vegetables to be packaged and frozen in a short window of time to preserve the integrity of the food and the nutritional content as well.

If you have not done so, give frozen food options a chance. Take a few extra minutes on your next trip to the grocer and look at the options available. The frozen foods cases are full of tasty, nutritious, and perfectly portioned selections that can be prepared in minutes for those hectic days when prepping and cooking a meal is not an option.


Don’t ‘Waist’ Your Heart Away

Knowing your waist circumference is a simple way to determine if you are at risk for heart disease. A waist circumference larger than 40 inches for men or 35 inches for women deems a person overweight per National Institute of Health (NIH) guidelines.

It is commonly known that being overweight is associated with a barrage of health problems such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and even some cancers. Where those extra pounds are carried is important to note. When those pounds are concentrated around the waist, it “is an indicator of the level of internal fat deposits which coat the heart, kidneys, liver, digestive organs and pancreas” according to the Heart Foundation, versus carrying those extra pounds on your thighs and/or hips.

Waist circumference is a good indicator to utilize. It has been discovered in many cases that Body Mass Index (BMI) can overestimate body fat in certain people with high amounts of muscle mass. According to the NIH, “the good news is even a small weight loss, between 5 and 10 percent of your current weight, will help lower your risk of developing diseases.”  Weight loss should be conducted in a healthy manner and incorporate physical activity. The Choose MyPlate website provides free exercise and dietary tracking and great practical information to aid in one’s journey.

The really simple way to predict your risk for heart disease can be as easy as measuring your waist. Taking a few moments to complete this task can be an enlightening step in managing your health and possibly prevent you from ‘waisting’ your heart away.

Pumpkins Have Arrived

largerpumpkinsEven though the weather is still warm, fall is right around the corner. Walk into any local grocery store and pumpkins are starting to show up. Pumpkins are a staple for the beginning of the fall season. Locally, you will see many varieties called pie or sugar pumpkins as well as carving pumpkins.

The variety of pumpkin you select will depend on what you want to do with the pumpkin. Are you buying to carve a jack-o-lantern or make pumpkin pie? The bigger pumpkins are great for carving but the worst for cooking as they are stringy and very bland.

The best ones for baking and cooking with are sweet, flavorful, and have smooth-textured flesh. Varieties you will notice locally will be labeled for “pies” and are smaller and more compact in size.

After purchasing a pumpkin, it may be stored for many weeks in a well-ventilated place at room temperature. Once cut, you should store inside the refrigerator where it will keep for several days. For longer storage, prepare the pulp and freeze. This is excellent for pies and baked goods you want to make later.

Here are some interesting facts about pumpkins:piepumpkins

  • Pumpkins are fruits (they contain seeds) and are a member of the cucurbit family which includes squash and cucumbers.
  • Pumpkins are 90% water
  • Pumpkins come in all sizes and weights.
  • Pumpkins contain potassium and Vitamin A.
  • The United States produces more than one billion pounds of pumpkins each year.
  • Most pumpkins are orange but come in other colors too such as yellow, white, green, red and even tan.
  • Most pumpkins weigh about 15 – 30 pounds.
  • Pumpkin seeds can be roasted for a snack.
  • It takes four to five months to grow pumpkins.

Freezing Pumpkin

Select a pumpkin labeled for cooking.

Preparation – Wash, cut into cooking-size sections and remove seeds. There are several ways to cook the pulp.

Cook in boiling water, in steam, or in an oven until soft. Remove by scraping the pulp from rind and mash. Discard the rind or use in your compost pile. To cool, place pan containing pumpkin in cold water and stir occasionally. Package in approved freezer container leaving ½-inch headspace. Label and date and place in freezer.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Scoop out seeds from pumpkin. Remove pulp from seeds; Rinse and drain well. Rub seeds with a little oil. Spread on cookie sheet and bake at 300˚F for about 20 – 25 minutes or until brown. Stir often.

Pamela H. Allen, UF/IFAS Interim County Extension Director, Okaloosa County

What’s in Season Now?


What’s in season now?  Although summer doesn’t officially start for a few more weeks farmers have been busy producing seasonal, summer fruits and vegetables.  The seasonal vegetable guide for North Florida Produce has an abundance!  Not only are basil and beans plentiful, so are blackberries, blueberries and mulberries, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, garlic, melons, okra, peas (southern) peppers, summer squash, and tomatoes.  (in the southern part of Florida avocado, guava, lychee, mango, papaya, and passion fruit are showing up)


Fruits and vegetables are loaded with great vitamins and minerals! And eating at least 3-5 servings a day of fruits and vegetables is truly considered the key to good health.  Folks who eat a wide variety of colors – both fruits and vegetables, as part of an overall healthy diet, are likely to have a reduced risk of some chronic diseases.  Both fruits and vegetables provide nutrients vital for health and maintenance of your body.


Eating fruits and vegetables is easy to do!


Have you ever tried using the United States Department of Agriculture What’s Cooking? USDA Mixing Bowl recipe finder? Using this website, I simply checked the box that I’d like to focus on, eating more fruit and vegetables then added the ingredient zucchini to the recipe search box. What's Cooking

Sixty recipes popped up! I choose the one for Squash Squares.

Squash Squares: Ingredients

4 eggs (beaten lightly)

1/4 cup oil

3 cups thinly sliced squash (use zucchini or yellow squash)

1/4 cup chopped onion

1 cup biscuit mix

1 teaspoon dried parsley (or 2 T chopped fresh parsley)

1/3 cup grated cheddar cheese

1 cup grated carrots


  1. Mix all ingredients thoroughly and pour into a greased 9×13″ baking dish.
    2. Bake 25 minutes, or until bubbly and brown, in a 350°F oven.
    3. Serve in squares while warm.


  • To freeze – Cool, and cut into squares. Freeze squares on a cookie sheet. When they are frozen, put into freezer bags. When ready to use, take out of the freezer bag, place in microwaveable covered container. Reheat in microwave at medium setting.
  • Try 8 egg whites in place of whole egg for less cholesterol and fat.
  • Add other thinly chopped fresh veggies into the mix – green or red sweet peppers, spinach, broccoli.

I’ve tried this recipe using both yellow squash and zucchini with equally tasty results.  I especially appreciated the suggestions on the recipe to personalize by adding your own twist.  Like it spicy?  Add a jalapeno!  Want to add some pizzazz?  Add some diced red pepper for color.  Want to eat it later?  Just freeze and eat or reheat and eat! Don’t have zucchini on hand?  Substitute other thinly chopped fresh veggies.  I have even substituted the biscuit mix with a corn bread mix for yet another spin.


Fruits and vegetables are nutritious and delicious.  Try adding some Florida fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables to your meals!