Spring Cleaning Your Grill

April 27th, 2015

Once the weather gets warmer we use our grill about every day.  Cleaning it before you start to heavily use it is always a good idea.  Here are some cleaning tips that will keep your grill working well for years to come.

  • Start off by washing the outside with warm soapy water. Rinse well after washing.
  • If you have a stainless steel burner on the side of your grill you can use a mild stainless steel cleaner. Use a non- lint cloth to clean and polish.
  • Next move to the inside. If on the lid of your grill you have deposits that look like peeling paint it is carbonized grease. Use a stainless steel grill brush to remove them then wash with warm soapy water and rinse.
  • Brush the grates with a stainless steel brush and then wipe them clean with a rag and soapy water, then rinse.
  • To clean the burners and tubes use a stainless steel grill brush. Brush them sideways not lengthways to avoid moving debris from one hole to the next.
  • Be sure and clean the bottom of the grill. If the grease is excessive use a spatula or putty knife to scrape it off into the bottom tray. Clean the tray and the drip tray.

Just like cleaning your oven, maintaining your grill will keep it working for a long time.  Your food will cook more evenly and you will enjoy the fruits of your labor.

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Cleaning, Household Equipment

Graduation Party Planning

April 23rd, 2015

graduation cap


Spring is here and with spring come graduation parties.  One of the hardest parts of planning a party is trying to decide how much food you need to have.  You will want to have enough so you don’t run out of food, but not too much, especially if it is something that doesn’t keep well (like potato salad).  A rule of thumb that I tried to follow with my three kids was to have foods that could be easily frozen if we ended up having a lot of leftovers.

Planning a party starts with picking a date that works for you and your family.  If it is a popular date then there will probably be several other parties on that date as well.  That will impact the amount of food that you will need.  If your party is late in the day and there are several earlier parties the guests may not be as hungry when they get to your house.

Here are a few examples of foods and the approximate serving amounts needed per person and per 100 guests.

  • Sloppy joes or pulled pork – 1/3 cup meat will fill a hamburger bun (16-17 pounds for 100 people)
  • Coleslaw – 1/3 cup serving per person (9 quarts for 100 people)
  • Fresh fruit – 1/3 to ½ cup per person (9 to 10 quarts for 100 people)
  • Relish tray – 3-4 pieces per person (25 pieces per head of broccoli, 32 – 4” strips of celery from a      medium bunch, 36 – 4” strips of carrots in a pound, 30 pieces in small head of cauliflower)
  • Potato salad – ½ cup per serving (14 quarts for 100 people)
  • Punch – you can get 21 6 ounce glasses from a gallon (5 gallons for 100 people)
  • Sheet cake – you can get 96-64 slices per sheet cake depending on how you cut it

If you have a food and you would like to know how much that you might need, give us a call at AnswerLine.  We would be glad to help you with your party planning.

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Food Preparation, Holiday ideas, Quantity Cooking

Cleaning Your House Siding

April 20th, 2015

photo (1)Mold is present everywhere including both indoors and outside.  Most times molds that grow on the outside of your house don’t pose health problems but it can definitely be an eye sore!  Mold can appear as discoloration or darkening on siding, decks and roofs.

Molds grow on surfaces usually where it is dark or shady, when temperatures are warm (although it can happen anywhere above freezing to nearly 100 degrees) and where there is a moisture source including humidity in the air.  Proper ventilation around the house is important.  If you have trees and plants that are growing close to the house it can provide an environment for mold to grow especially if it is on the north side of the house where there isn’t much sunlight.  Trimming the plants and keeping the surfaces of your house clean will keep the outside of your house mold and mildew free.

It is a good idea to wash your siding every year.  If you have a soft brush that attaches to the hose it will work well. If you need more than water and a brush you can use 1/3 cup mild household cleaner like TSP (trisodium phosphate) in a gallon of water.  If you need something stronger you can increase the cleaner to 2/3 cup and add 1/3 cup laundry detergent.  Always remember to rinse the siding after washing it.

If you have mold or mildew growing on the siding you can add 1 quart of bleach to the cleaning solution listed above.  Anytime you are adding bleach to clean you need to make sure that the cleaner you are using doesn’t contain ammonia.  Again rinse well after using this cleaner.

If there are plants located near where you are cleaning you need to protect them by covering them with plastic.  Be sure and rinse off any bleach solution right away if it comes in contact with your plants.

By providing regular cleaning and removing mold when it starts to grow you can prolong the life of your siding and keep your house looking nice.

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Cleaning, Consumer Management, Housing

Colorful punch recipes

April 16th, 2015


bowl of fruit punch


This summer seems to be the summer of weddings!  In additional to the wedding we are planning for our son we have several close friends who also have children getting married.  Part of the fun leading up to the weddings is holding bridal showers.  In the showers that I have been helping to host we have tried to incorporate the bride’s colors in the napkins and decorations.  In addition to the decorations it is always fun to serve a punch that is the appropriate color.

My future daughter in law has violet as one of her colors.  Here is a punch recipe that would be perfect for her shower as well as a few other fun colors.

LAVENDER PUNCH    Serves 25-30.

1 quart grape juice

1- 6 oz. can frozen orange juice

1 6 oz. can frozen lemon juice

2 quarts water

2 cups sugar (or less)

Mix and refrigerate.  When ready to serve, add 2 quart bottles of ginger ale.


RASPBERRY PUNCH    Yield: 2 1/2 quarts

2 pkgs. frozen raspberries or strawberries

2/3 cup sugar

2 cups orange juice, fresh or frozen

1 can (6 oz.)  frozen lemonade

1 quart ginger ale

Thaw the berries, sprinkle with sugar and mash with a fork or potato masher.  Mix berries with orange juice and reconstituted lemonade.  To serve, pour fruit mixture over ice and add the gingerale.


BLUE PUNCH     Makes 50-75 cups.

1 gallon water

1/2 cup sugar

11 (6 oz.) cans frozen lemonade

Mix together.  Mix food coloring together (1 scant  TBSP. blue coloring, 1/4 TBSP. green) and add a few drops at a time until you reach the desire color.

Then add:   11 (12 oz.) bottles 7-UP

1/2 gallon pineapple sherbet.

(*Gingerale will cause the punch to turn green.)


If you are looking for a punch recipe in a certain color call us at AnswerLine.  We can help you find the perfect one that will make your table look even more special!

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April 13th, 2015

rhubarbIt is a sure sign of spring when the rhubarb patch starts to grow!  Rhubarb leaf stalks are used in everything from pies, tarts, sauces, jams, jellies, puddings and even punch.  Although it is categorized as a vegetable, most people think of it as a fruit since it is highly acidic and has a tart flavor.

According to our Iowa State University Extension Horticulturists if you are looking to start your own rhubarb patch spring is the best time to do it.  Rhubarb plants can be purchased at garden center or if you are lucky enough to know someone dividing their plant you can start your patch with that.  Each division should contain at least two to three buds and a large piece of the root system.  Replant in your own spot as soon as possible.  Select a site that will receive at least 6 hours of direct sun each day.  Plants prefer well-drained, fertile soils that are high in organic matter.

If you have just planted your rhubarb do not harvest during the first two years.  This allows food crown and root development.  During the third year, harvest for a four- week period.  In the fourth and following years, rhubarb can be harvested for eight to ten weeks, ending in mid-June.  Do not harvest after that or the rhubarb plants will be weakened and less productive the following year.  Do not remove more than one-half of the fully developed stalks from any plant at any one time.

If your plants produce flower stalks remove them as soon as they appear.  Flower and seed formation reduces the plants vigor and inhibits leaf stalk formation.  Rhubarb crowns often become overcrowded after eight to ten years.  You might notice that the stalks become smaller and there aren’t producing as much.  Dividing the plant should help with this problem.  Just remember to wait two years before harvesting again.

If your plant is producing more than you can use you might want to freeze some to enjoy later in the summer or next winter.  Here are the directions to freeze yours successfully:

Preparation – Choose firm, tender, well-colored stalks with good flavor and few fibers. Wash, trim and cut into lengths to fit the package. Heating rhubarb in boiling water for 1 minute and cooling promptly in cold water helps retain color and flavor.

Dry Pack – Pack either raw or preheated rhubarb tightly into containers without sugar. Leave headspace. Seal and freeze.

Syrup Pack – Pack either raw or preheated rhubarb tightly into containers, cover with cold 40 percent syrup. Leave headspace. Seal and freeze.

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Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Horticulture

Are you ready for canning season?

April 9th, 2015

Canning JarsThe weather is starting to warm up, it’s time to start planning what you are planting in your garden and time to get your canners ready to preserve your garden bounty!  Making sure that your canning equipment is in proper working order is required for safe, high quality home canning.

If you have a pressure canner with a dial gauge it needs to be tested every year.  Check with us at AnswerLine to find the closest Extension office or hardware store for testing.  A weighted gauge canner does not need to be tested.  If you have a Presto canner they will also test the gauge.  Simply send it to them, they test it and send it back to you.  Just be sure and do it far enough in advance to have it back and ready for canning season.

The canner’s vent and safety value should also be cleaned.  Use a very small bottle brush or small cloth to run through the holes to make sure they are clean and operating freely.  Next check the gasket if your canner has one.  It should be soft and flexible, not brittle, sticky or cracked.  If it needs to be replaced you can usually find them at hardware stores that selling canning supplies or they can be ordered from the manufacturer.

Then do an inventory of your jars, flats and bands.  Check the jars to make sure there are no small chips or hairline cracks.  Nicks, especially on the top sealing edge of the jar can keep the lids from sealing properly.  Hairline cracks in jars caused by old age and frequent use could cause them to break under pressure and heat during canning.  If your jars need to be replaced start watching for specials on them in stores.  Sometimes stores have sales before the canning season officially starts! The bands can be reused year after year as long as they are not dented or rusty.  The flat lids are only used once so make sure that you toss the old ones and have new lids to use for this year’s canning.

The last thing is to make sure that you have your tested canning recipes ready.  Publications and information is available through us at AnswerLine or at your local county Extension Office.  If you do not have a copy of the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service canning book called So Easy to Preserve I would recommend purchasing one.  It is a comprehensive book with information on all types of home food preservation methods.  Remember to look over your tested recipes in advance to make sure that you have all of the ingredients that you will need!

With your equipment and supplies ready to go you will have a head start when your garden starts producing!

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Food Preservation, Household Equipment, recipes

Make your own sidewalk chalk and play dough

April 6th, 2015

Are you looking for some fun projects to make with your kids or grandkids?   Why not try making your own sidewalk chalk or play dough.   Both are easy to make and require only a few ingredients that are easy to find!










To make sidewalk chalk start collecting empty paper towel and toilet paper tubes.  Wrap one end with duct tape.  Use freezer paper or waxed paper to line the inside of the tube.  To make the chalk mix in a large empty yogurt container 1 cup water and 3-4 Tablespoons of your favorite color tempera paint.  When that is mixed, slowly stir in 1 ½ cups of plaster of paris.  The mixture will start to thicken but you still want to be able to pour it into your sealed and lined tubes.  Let set until firm when squeezed (1/2 to 1 hour) then, remove the outside liner and let it sit until dry, which may take a couple of days.  The end result will be colorful sideway chalk that is both fun to make and fun to use!

By making your own sidewalk chalk you control the size and shape.  Larger pieces won’t break as easy as thin ones plus it is a fun project to make.  I plan to share mine with my great niece and nephews as well as my sister who has a wall painted with blackboard paint for her grandkids to enjoy.

play dough 2 play dough1 play dough









To make a cooked version of play dough, mix together the following ingredients:

2 cups flour

1 cup salt

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 ½ teaspoons cream of tartar

2 cup cold water

Mix all of the ingredients together and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes stirring constantly. When finished, it will be the consistency of mashed potatoes.  Divide it into 3-4 equal portions and add a few drops of different colors of food coloring to each.  Kneading the dough will distribute the color and make it smooth.  Store it in a freezer bag or air tight container and it will keep for a long time.  This makes about 3 ½ cups of play dough.

Homemade play dough is a project where kids can be actively involved (once the cooking is done).  Keep plenty of cookie cutters and other small kitchen tools for the kids to use when playing with the play dough.  It will provide hours of fun!

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Child Development, Holiday ideas, recipes

Natural Dyes for Easter Eggs

April 2nd, 2015

If you have small children (or grandchildren) it may be time to think about dyeing some eggs for an Easter egg hunt.  Here are some tips for preparing those eggs.

Older Eggs peel more easily: Eggs stored in the refrigerator about 10 days will peel more easily after cooking than very fresh eggs.  Sometimes eggs that have been stored for a few weeks will float.  There is no need to be concerned.  This tells us the egg is not real fresh, but there is no safety problem with it.  In fact, it should peel easily.

Hard cooking eggs: Put eggs in single layer in a saucepan; add cold water to cover with 1 inch of water.  Cover the pan. Bring just to boil and turn off heat, leave on burner, for 15-17 minutes for large eggs.  Adjust the time up or down by about 3 minutes for each size larger or smaller.  Cool in ice water or cold running water and then store in the refrigerator.

Keep those eggs safe: As with other foods, eggs should not be left at room temperature for more than 2 hours at any point in time.  If you will need to leave the eggs out of refrigeration for more than 2 hours for use as a centerpiece or for hiding, it would be a good idea to dye 2 batches.  Keep 1 batch in the refrigerator to be eaten and leave the other out for decoration only, to be discarded later.

Make sure the eggs you color aren’t cracked.  If any crack during dyeing or while on display, discard them along with any eggs that have been out of refrigeration for more than 2 hours.  Keep eggs in the shell for only one week in the refrigerator.

If you want to try some fun experimentation with the kids, use some natural dyes this year.  Experiment with some new colors.

Natural Dyes:

Simmer eggs in water to cover for 20 minutes with 1 tsp. of vinegar and one of the following:

Apple peels, yellow delicious apples give a green-gold colored egg

Fresh beets, cranberries, radishes give a pinkish red egg

Fresh oregano or mint leaves give a beige egg

Red cabbage leaves make a blue egg

Blueberries also make a blue egg

Strong coffee will turn eggs brown

Walnut shells make a buff colored egg

Spinach leaves will turn eggs a grayish gold/pink color

Carrot tops will turn eggs greenish yellow

Onion skins make yellow/orange eggs

Orange peels will provide a delicate yellow color to your egg

Celery seed or ground cumin will also turn eggs a delicate yellow

Turmeric, (ground) provides a stronger yellow color on eggs

Strong brewed coffee turns eggs into light beige to brown color

Dill seeds    brown-gold

Chili powder makes eggs turn brown-orange

Grape juice makes a gray colored egg

Older children might enjoy using this as a science experiment.  They can make predictions about what things affect the strength of the colors on the eggs.



Food Preparation, Food Safety, Holiday ideas

Create Lasting Family Memories

March 30th, 2015

eggs easter color dyeSpring is here and with spring brings the Easter celebration.  My youngest child is in college now but one activity that the whole family has enjoyed doing since they were little is getting together to dye Easter eggs.  Not only did they enjoy it as kids but it is still a fun activity for the whole extended family!

Here are a few things to remember when handling eggs safely.

  • Make sure that everyone washes their hands before handling the eggs and make sure that the counter is covered to keep dye from staining it.
  • After cooking and cooling the eggs put them in the refrigerator unless you are dying them immediately. Eggs should be out of the refrigerator for no longer than 2 hours.
  • Use a food safe dye if you are planning on eating the eggs.
  • To make your own dye with food coloring to ½ cup of water add 1-2 teaspoons of vinegar and 20 or so drops of food coloring. Add more if you want a darker color. Leave in the water mixture until it is the desired color. (For additional tips on making your own natural dyes look for out April 2nd blog post!)
  • Try wrapping rubber bands around your eggs before placing them in the dye. Just be sure the egg is dry before removing them!
  • Use a crayon to draw a design on the egg. The wax will keep the dye off the design while the rest of the egg will be colored.

If you plan to hide your eggs remember that they should be out no longer than 2 hours.  According to the Food Safety and Inspection Service don’t eat eggs that have been lying on the ground.  If there happen to be cracks in the shell, bacteria can contaminate the eggs.  They should be hidden in places that are protected from dirt, moisture, pets and other sources of bacteria.  If you follow all of these rules the “found” eggs should be washed, re-refrigerated and eaten within 7 days of cooking.

If you want to keep your eggs from one year to the next, or if you want to use them for decorating you will need to blow out the eggs.

  • Make sure that the eggs you are using do not have any tiny cracks in them.
  • Use a long needle to make a small hole in the small end of the egg and a larger hole in the large end.Carefully make the hole larger (on the large end) so that you are able to stick a needle into the yolk to break it.
  • Shake the egg over a bowl until the contents come out. Rinse the shell in cool running water and stand it on end to let it drip and dry.
  • You can also press the bulb of a kitchen baster (that has been squeezed to expel the air) in the larger hole made in the egg. Release the bulb to siphon out the shell contents. Rinse and let dry.
  • Remember the eggs will be very fragile so you might want to save an egg carton to store them in!
  • Try making your own Easter grass by shredding or thinly cutting colored paper. Crush it in your hand to give it the correct grass texture. It makes the perfect nest for your blown out eggs or for the inside of an Easter basket!

Enjoy the fun times spent with your family!  With our family these are memories that last a lifetime!

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Food Safety, Holiday ideas, recipes

Egg Safety

March 26th, 2015

pasteurized egg cartonToday I wanted to answer some questions that we often receive about eggs.

Salmonella is something that we have heard in the news in recent years.  People have gotten sick from eating uncooked or under cooked eggs.  This includes using raw eggs in recipes for homemade ice cream, sauces or even leaving your yolks runny when making fried eggs.  Your only option to continue to make these recipes is to use pasteurized eggs.  Pasteurized eggs have been heated to a temperature high enough to kill the bacteria but not cook the egg.  Pasteurized shell eggs are now available at some grocery stores. Like all eggs, they must be kept refrigerated to retain quality and safety. Unfortunately pasteurizing eggs at home is not an option. The equipment to pasteurize shell eggs isn’t available for home use, and it is very difficult to do at home without cooking the egg. Liquid eggs are also pasteurized and can be used in uncooked recipes.

Did you know that older eggs are easier to peel? That’s because the air cell, found at the large end of the shell between the shell membranes, increases in size the longer the raw egg is stored and as the moisture inside the egg evaporates through the shell. As the air cell enlarges, the shell becomes easier to peel.  Also just because an egg floats in water doesn’t mean it is bad. As the air cell increases it will make the egg become buoyant. It means the egg is older but it may still be perfectly safe to use. A spoiled egg will have an unpleasant odor when you break open the shell, whether it is raw or cooked.

Here are a few other tips from the Food Safety and Inspection Service on handling eggs in dishes.

  • Egg mixtures are safe if they reach 160 °F, so homemade ice cream and eggnog can be made safely from a cooked egg-milk mixture. Heat it gently and use a food thermometer.
  • Dry meringue shells are safe. So are divinity candy and 7-minute frosting, made by combining hot sugar syrup with beaten egg whites. Avoid icing recipes using uncooked eggs or egg whites.
  • Meringue-topped pies should be safe if baked at 350 °F for about 15 minutes. Chiffon pies and fruit whips made with raw, beaten egg whites cannot be guaranteed to be safe. Instead, substitute pasteurized dried egg whites, whipped cream, or a whipped topping.
  • To make a recipe safe that specifies using eggs that aren’t cooked, heat the eggs in a liquid from the recipe over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches 160 °F. Then combine it with the other ingredients and complete the recipe.
  • To determine doneness in egg dishes such as quiche and casseroles, the center of the mixture should reach 160 °F when measured with a food thermometer.
  • Eggs and egg dishes, such as quiches or soufflés, may be refrigerated for serving later but should be thoroughly reheated to 165°F (74°C) before serving.

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Food Preservation, Food Safety, recipes