Preparing meals for the freezer

July 24th, 2014

freezing leftover

 

 

Do you struggle with what to make for dinner?  Families today have very busy schedules and often we don’t think about what’s for dinner until it is time to eat.  With a little planning you can have wonderful home cooked meals ready to take from the freezer, put in the oven and your family can be eating a in about an hour!

 

Here are a few helpful tips for preparing meals for the freezer.

  • Pre cook meats and place it in freezer bags for quick meals like tacos or maid rites.
  • If you are making casseroles freeze them before baking, especially when all of the ingredients are cooked.
  • Undercook starchy ingredients like potatoes, rice and pasta when using them in a meal for the freezer.
  • Freeze meals in portion sizes for the number of people in your family.  If you have leftover freeze individual size meals in freezer bags for quick lunches.
  • Freeze meals in the containers you plan to cook them in.  Glass containers work well.
  • Don’t freeze meals that include items that don’t freeze well such as boiled eggs, sour cream and mayonnaise.
  • Seasoning intensity can change during freezing so season lightly.  Cloves, pepper, garlic and celery become stronger upon freezing.  Remember you can always add more seasonings when reheating.
  • Make double batches and freeze one for later use.
  • Let your family help!  Many hands will make meal preparation go more quickly.  Assign tasks to family members according to their age.  You will help develop life-long skills and talents.
  • If you are baking your casserole before freezing, cool it quickly.  Also remember that shallow baking pans speed freezing and thawing of casseroles.
  • To thaw casseroles before reheating, allow the casserole to stand in the refrigerator overnight.  Then cook as directed in the recipe.  If it is not completely thawed you may need to add 15 to 30 minutes to the cooking time.
  • Fully cooked casseroles should not be thawed, but baked at 400°F for the time according to the recipe.
  • Use frozen casseroles within three months for best quality.  Be sure and label all of your meals with the cooking directions and the date that you put it in the freezer.

Planning ahead helps you to take control of your family dinners making meal time enjoyable for everyone!

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Food Preparation, Food Safety

Vacuum Sealers

July 17th, 2014

vacuum sealer machineVacuum sealers are machines that are marketed for vacuum packaging food at home. There are many different models available but these machines are intended to extend the storage time of refrigerated foods, dried foods and frozen foods. I bought one to use with freezing meats and leftovers to keep the quality better for a longer period of time. The benefit of removing the air before sealing is the increased storage time of refrigerated, dried and frozen foods. If the air is not removed, oxygen can cause fats to develop rancid flavors and change the food’s color, texture and flavor. Vacuum seal bags are designed to help keep meat and other foods fresh in the freezer by preventing the loss of moisture and the development of freezer burn.

What vacuum sealers do not do is make a product that needs to be refrigerated shelf stable. The removal of oxygen from a food package doesn’t eliminate all bacterial growth; it just changes the type of growth that can occur. Temperature control is critical for safe vacuum-storage. If foods that require refrigeration are vacuum sealed then left at room temperature, there is a risk of harmful bacteria growing and causing illness. This also means that frozen items that are vacuum sealed should be thawed in the refrigerator, NEVER on the counter.

To avoid risks when vacuum sealing follow these safe food handling tips:

  • Vacuum sealing food does not replace the need to pressure can or water bath home canned foods that are stored at room temperature.
  • Keep vacuum sealed perishable items that need refrigeration (fresh produce, meat and fish, semi-dried foods, and moist bakery items), in the refrigerator or freezer.
  • Use a vacuum sealer to extend the shelf life of properly dried nuts, fruits and vegetables and meat jerky. The removal of the oxygen will help these foods continue to taste fresh.
  • Wash your hands before and during the sealing process. Keep utensils, cutting boards and counters clean.
  • Don’t allow the food you are vacuum sealing to be out of the refrigerator before or after you seal it.

Remember to always follow safe food handling practices and enjoy the benefits of vacuum sealing foods.

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Food Safety, Household Equipment

Canning Methods

July 14th, 2014

 

Canning JarsOne of the questions we often hear when folks are canning is: What is the difference between Hot Pack and Raw Pack? Obviously, the main difference is that one style involves totally raw food while the other method uses partially cooked food. Both styles of pack have benefits; select the best pack for the situation.

Raw Pack is often used when canning vegetables in the pressure canner. This is an easy method; clean and slice the fruit or vegetable and pack tightly into the jar. Air is often trapped between pieces of raw food and this air can be difficult to eliminate. Trapped air can cause a loss of liquid during the canning process, floating fruit, or discoloration of the food after a few months of storage.

Hot Pack foods are heated to a boil followed by simmering for about 5 minutes. Precooking shrinks the foods, allowing you to fit more food inside the jar. Air is not trapped inside the food (so fruit will not float) or between the pieces of food, which can cause loss of liquid in the jars. Also, the best quality of some foods, like pears, is obtained by using a hot pack.

No matter which pack you choose for your food, remember to always use boiling water, broth, or juice to fill the jars.

Happy canning.

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Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Food Safety

Pickling Carrots

July 10th, 2014

pickled carrotsSummer canning time is one of my favorite times of the year.  We get many calls from people learning to can or trying something new. It is fun to teach people proper canning methods. There are so many different options available to us with the recipes tested by the USDA, National Center for Home Food Preservation, Extension Resources, and the Ball Blue Books.

Pickled carrots are yet another way to serve a delicious and nutritious vegetable.  Carrots that are small, young, and tender produce a great canned product.  You may want to try pickling some of the first carrots you pull in the garden this summer.  The National Center for Home Food Preservation has this recipe available for Pickled Carrots.

Enjoy!

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Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Food Safety

Pickled Corn Relish

July 7th, 2014

pickled 3-bean saladCorn will soon be plentiful in both the farmers markets and our gardens.  We used to freeze a LOT of corn when our kids were young; now we tend to enjoy it fresh from the garden.  Sometimes it is fun to experiment with new recipes.  You may want to try this one for Pickled Corn Relish that our friends at the National Center for Home Food Preservation have included on their website. It has a nice combination of garden vegetables and a tangy flavor.  Enjoy making some this weekend.  Just remember that canning recipes are designed and tested to produce a safe product.  Do not alter the recipe in any way.

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Food Preparation, Food Preservation, recipes

Easy Rubs for Barbeque

July 3rd, 2014

 

A rub is a blend of seasonings that is ‘rubbed’ onto the surface of meat before it is cooked. Using a rub is an easy way to dress up beef steaks and burgers with all kinds of seasoning combinations. Seasoning can be fresh or dried or a mixture. Sometimes a small amount of oil is added to the seasonings to make a paste-type rub.

A rub adds flavor only; it does not help tenderize less tender beef cuts.

Simply cover the outside surface of the meat with the seasoning blend prior to grilling. Rubs can be applied just before grilling or, for convenience, a few hours in advance.  Just be certain to keep the beef refrigerated until grilling time. Flavors usually become more pronounced the longer the seasoning mixture is on the beef.

There is really no need for a recipe, as such, though we’ve included some in this information. You may use Italian seasoning, Mexican seasoning, or Cajun, as they are already mixed spices.  Experiment and try your combination. Suggestions follow below.

  • Citrus:  combine grated lemon, orange or lime      peel or a combination of these citrus flavors with minced garlic and cracked black pepper.
  • Pepper-garlic:  combine garlic powder, cracked black pepper and cayenne pepper
  • Italian:  combine fresh or dried oregano, basil and rosemary with minced Italian parsley and garlic.
  • Herb:  combine fresh or dried marjoram, thyme and basil.

 

RECIPES:

Lemon-Rosemary Rub

1 1/2 tsp. grated lemon peel                              1 tsp. rosemary leaves, crushed

1/4 tsp. salt                                                           1/4 tsp. dried thyme leaves

1/4 tsp. coarse ground black pepper                                2 large cloves garlic, crushed

Makes enough for 2 pounds beef

 

Southwestern Rub

1 1/2 tsp. chili powder                                         1 tsp. garlic powder

1/2 tsp. dried oregano leaves                             1/4 tsp. ground cumin

Shake together.  Makes enough to season 2 pounds of beef

 

Pepper-Herb Mix

2 Tbsp. dried basil leaves                                   1 Tbsp. lemon pepper

1 Tbsp. onion powder                                         1 Tbsp. dried savory leaves

1 1/2 tsp. rubbed sage

Shake to blend.   Makes 1/3 cup

 

Spicy Seasoning Mix

3 Tbsp. chili powder                                            2 tsp. ground coriander

2 tsp. ground cumin                                            1 1/2 tsp. garlic powder

3/4 tsp. dried oregano leaves                             1/2 tap. ground red pepper

Shake.  Makes 1/3 cup

 

Easy Greek-Style Rub

2 teaspoons garlic powder

2 teaspoons dried oregano leaves

½ teaspoon pepper

Combine all ingredients in small bowl.  Makes about 2 tablespoons

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Food Preparation, Holiday ideas, recipes

Confused by the dates on canned goods?

June 30th, 2014

can date

Are you confused by the dates that appear on food labels?  If so you are not alone!  According to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service product dating is not required by Federal regulations with the exception of infant formula.  Most companies do put a date or a code on the package but unfortunately there is no universally accepted method used so it can get confusing.  Here are some terms that will help you in determining if the food item is still safe.

“Sell by” means that store should sell the product by the date printed, but it can still safely be eaten after that date.  Eggs cartons have a sell by date.

“Best if used by” means the consumer should use the product by the date listed for best quality and flavor (not for safety reasons).  Most canned goods have a best if used by date.

“Use by” or “expires” means the product should be used by or frozen by the date listed.  There will likely be a marked deterioration in product quality and safety after this date.  Meats are an example of a food with a use by date.

A packing code is required on all cans.  This enables the company to track when and where the food was manufactured.  Unfortunately these aren’t meant for the consumer to interpret as “use by” dates.

Canned foods are safe indefinitely as long as they are not exposed to extreme temperatures (freezing or temperatures above 90°F).  Any cans that are dented, rusted, or swollen should be discarded.   You will find that high-acid foods (tomatoes, fruits) will keep their best quality for 12 to 18 months and low-acid canned foods (meats, vegetables) for 2 to 5 years.

Follow these tips for ensure that the food that you purchase will be at top quality:

  • Purchase the product before the date expires.
  • If perishable, take the food home immediately after the purchase and refrigerate it promptly.
  • Once you freeze a perishable item, it doesn’t matter if the date expires because foods kept frozen continuously are safe indefinitely.
  • Don’t buy dented cans from the store.  The can could be compromised it could be unsafe.
  • Follow the recommendations for on the products for safe storage.

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Consumer Management, Food Safety

Power Outages and Food Safety

June 26th, 2014

imageBig storms can cause power outages any time of year.  We may have more concern for food safety when this happens during a summer storm as the contents of the refrigerator and freezer are exposed to warmer room temperatures, especially when the air conditioning goes off.

You should always check the condition of food in the refrigerator and freezer as soon as power returns. That allows you to make safe choices when determining which food is still safe to eat.

These items will be safe: juice, pickles, olives, hard cheese (i.e. Cheddar, Colby, or Swiss), butter/margarine, fresh fruit and vegetables, vinegar/oil dressings, jellies/jams, catsup. Discard any of the above if moldy.

The foods of greatest concern are the perishable items. Estimate the amount of time the power has been off and the current temperature in the fridge or freezer.

Generally speaking:

  • Food will keep 4-6 hours in a refrigerator
  • A full freezer will keep food frozen for 2 days
  • A freezer that’s only half-full will keep food frozen for 1 day
  • If the just off a couple hours, most products will be safe.

Remember these tips for refrigerated or frozen foods:

  • Food held at 40 F. or less (ice crystals are intact): the food is SAFE, either consume or refreeze
  • Food held above 40 F. for 2 hours or less: DO NOT REFREEZE as is, either cook and consume or cook and freeze
  • Foods held above 40 F. for over 2 hours: DISCARD.

 

 

Do not hesitate to contact us with questions about specific foods. We are always happy to help.

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Consumer Management, Food Safety

Clean your drain easily

June 23rd, 2014

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We often associate spring with deep cleaning in our home.  Dirty drains can add a funky odor to the kitchen.  We have two different recipes to either clean or freshen the kitchen sink drain.

Drains can be cleaned by mixing ¼ cup of baking soda, ¼ cup of salt and 1 tablespoon of cream of tartar. Pour this mixture in the drain and add ½ cup of white vinegar.  Allow it to stand for 30 minutes, and then flush with cold water.

If your drain just needs a bit of freshening, mix 2 tablespoons of baking soda, 2 tablespoons of salt, and one teaspoon of cream of tartar.  Pour this into the drain and flush slowly with water.

In no time at all, you have a clean (or fresher) kitchen drain.

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Cleaning, Consumer Management, Home Environment

Tips for Laundry Stain Removal

June 19th, 2014

One of the more frustrating things about doing laundry can be set in stains.  Follow these tips for best results.

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Tips to Remember for Stain Removal:

• Take care of stains promptly. Fresh stains are much easier to remove than those over 24 hours old.

• Blot up any excess liquid with a clean white cloth or paper towel. Remove excess solids by gentle scraping or chipping with a dull knife or metal spatula. With some solids, such as heavy amounts of surface mud, removal may be easier after the stain has dried. Brush off the excess before the clothing is submerged for washing.

• Avoid rubbing the stained area with a linty terry towel or a dark-colored cloth. You may complicate the problem.

• Never rub a fresh stain with bar soap. Soap sets many stains.

• Check laundry for stains before washing. Many stains need pretreatment.

• Inspect wet laundry before drying to be sure a stain has been removed. If a stain is still evident, do not dryer dry. The heat of drying makes the stain more permanent.

• Before starting on the stain, test on a seam or hidden area of the garment to be sure stain removal products do not affect the color or finish of the fabric.

• Avoid excessive rubbing unless the fabric is tough and durable. Rubbing can spread the stain and damage the fiber, finish, or color of the fabric. However, gentle to vigorous rubbing and agitation under running water helps remove dried food, protein, or oil stains from shirts or jean-weight fabrics made of cotton or cotton/polyester blends.

• Do not iron or press stained fabrics until the stain is completely removed. Heat sets most stains.

• Wash heavily stained items separately. Soil and stains can be re-deposited on cleaner clothing during laundering if a) too little detergent is used; b) water temperature is too low; c) washing time is too long; or d) the washer is loaded with too many clothes.

• Avoid using hot water on stains of unknown origin. Hot water can set protein stains like milk, egg, or blood.

• Use the water temperature recommended by product manufacturer. Hot water should be between 120 and 140 degrees F, warm water between 85 and 105 degrees F, and cold water between 65 and 75 degrees F. Water below 60 degrees F is too cold for detergents to be helpful.

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Cleaning, Consumer Management, Laundry, Textiles