Easy Halloween Costume Ideas

October 20th, 2014

Easy Halloween Costume Ideas for busy parents:

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. I was usually the homeroom parent for parties in preschool and grade school and would make elaborate costumes for my children and myself to wear to these celebrations. I’m not sure who enjoyed these events more – me or my kids!  Sadly, my kids are college-aged now and create their own costumes to wear to mark the occasion.  I still manage to dress up to hand out goodies to the neighborhood kids on beggars’ night. My weimeraner, Pearl, is now the object of my costume obsession.  She has grudgingly become Princess Leia from Star Wars, a hippie, a crazy Cyclone fan, and more over the years.


image[4]Today, parents are busier than ever it seems, with all of the work and activity demands on them. Check out some simple costume ideas for kids that can be made at home. Many of these can be made from items you may already have.  Think of it as re-purposing and recycling these items.



Have a SAFE, FUN HALLOWEEN everyone!







Child Development, Holiday ideas, Home Environment, Textiles, Uncategorized

Easy steps to planning menus

October 16th, 2014

If it seems like a struggle just to get dinner on the table every evening, consider planning menus in advance. Planned menus can help you organize grocery shopping and speed up dinnertime on those busy nights. Menu planning does not have to be complicated, it can be as simple as choosing a theme for one night a week or a cyclical menu that repeats every month.

If you choose a theme; Italian, breakfast items, or soups, it makes planning easier since you have already narrowed the categories. Think of your families favorite meals and while you are planning, jot imagedown those items you would not typically have on hand. Remember to balance the meal and include fresh fruits and vegetables. Typically there is not much preparation needed with fresh produce, especially if it can be eaten raw. Frozen fruits and vegetables are  also very nutritious and sometimes easier to have on hand, especially if you like to grocery shop only once or twice a month.

Designating one night a week to eat leftovers will help eliminate food waste—unless someone in your home consistently takes leftovers for lunch.

Designing your own cyclical menu may take a bit of time at first, but since you will be reusing it on a regular basis, in the long run it will be worth the time invested. Remember to work on your grocery list as you plan the menu. Cyclical menus typically repeat once every month to six weeks.  You may want to plan a cyclical menu to have on hand and vary the routine by planning menus for several weeks between uses of the cyclical menu.


Food Preparation, Nutrition, recipes

Canning Apple Pie Filling

October 13th, 2014

Canning pie filling is a fun way to preserve apples that are abundant right now. Each quart jar will make one 8-9 inch pie.

apple pie filling1

Table 1. Apple Pie Filling.
Quantities of Ingredients Needed For
1 Quart 7 Quarts
Blanched, sliced fresh apples 3-1/2 cups 6 quarts
Granulated sugar 3/4 cup + 2 tbsp 5-1/2 cups
Clear Jel® 1/4 cup 1-1/2 cup
Cinnamon 1/2 tsp 1 tbsp
Cold Water 1/2 cup 2-1/2 cups
Apple juice 3/4 cup 5 cups
Bottled lemon juice 2 tbsp 3/4 cup
Nutmeg (optional) 1/8 tsp 1 tsp
Yellow food coloring (optional) 1 drop 7 drops


Table 2. Recommended process time for Apple Pie Filling in a boiling-water canner.
Process Time at Altitudes of
Style of Pack Jar Size 0 – 1,000 ft 1,001 – 3,000 ft 3,001 – 6,000 ft Above 6,000 ft
Hot Pints or Quarts 25 min 30 35 40

Use firm, crisp apples. Staymen, Golden Delicious, Rome, and other varieties of similar quality are suitable.  If apples lack tartness, use additional ¼ cup of lemon juice for each 6 quarts of sliced apples.

apples in lemon juice1


Wash, peel and core apples. Cut apples into slices, ½ inch wide.  Place in an anti-darkening solution.  I used ½ cup bottled lemon juice to 2 quarts of water.


blanching apples1

Remove from antidarkening solution and drain well. Next blanch the fruit by placing small amounts in boiling water.  Boil each batch for one minute after the water returns to a boil.  Remove the fruit from the blanch water, but keep the hot fruit in a covered bowl or pot while you prepare the Clear Jel mixture.



pie filling 11


Combine Clear Jel, cinnamon and nutmeg in a large saucepot with water, apple juice and food coloring. Stir and cook on medium high until mixture thickens and begins to bubble.  Add lemon juice to the boiling mixture and boil 1 minute, stirring constantly.



pie filling1



Immediately fold in drained apples slices and fill hot jars with hot mixture. Leave 1 inch headspace.



removing bubbles pie filling



Remove air bubbles with a plastic knife. Wipe jar rims.







Put on lid fingertip tight and process immediately in a Boiling Water Bath.  Make sure that the water is at least 1 inch above the top of the submerged jars.  Use the chart above for processing times according to your altitude.



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Food Preservation, recipes

Freezing Apple Pie

October 9th, 2014

 Freezing apple pie is really as easy as 1, 2, 3!


image1.  Prepare the apples–peel, core, slice. Place in a bowl and cover with water and lemon juice; this prevents browning while you make the crust. When filling the crust, add 1 extra tablespoon of flour or tapioca or 1/2 tablespoon of corn starch. This will help prevent leakage of filling during baking.

2. Prepare the crust, roll and place in pan. Add the top curst but DO NOT cut vent holes. You will do this just before baking.

3.  Wrap the finished pie well, or place in large freezer bag.


When you want to use the frozen pie, follow these directions for baking:


1.  Cut vent holes in the frozen crust.

2.  Put pan on cookie sheet.

3.  Bake without thawing at 450 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Lower temperature to 375 degrees and bake an additional 20-30 minutes or until top crust is brown. Enjoy the taste of the freshly baked pie.




Food Preparation, Food Preservation, recipes

Freezing Eggs

October 6th, 2014

Callers often ask if it is possible to freeze eggs.Yes, you can easily freeze eggs for later baking or scrambling. You have the choice to either freeze whole eggs or separate the eggs and freeze yolks and whites by themselves.

Whole eggs inside the shell should not be frozen.  If you have an egg freeze accidentally, discard eggs that crack. You can safely use a whole, frozen, uncracked egg.  Just store it eggs1in the refrigerator until you need it. It may be best to hard cook that egg as the yolk may become thick and syrupy; this change makes it difficult to use in baking.

If you would like to freeze eggs at home, you will need to add either sugar, corn syrup, or salt to the egg yolks or whole eggs. Add 1/2-1 Tbsp. light corn syrup OR 1/2-1 Tbsp. sugar OR 1 tsp. salt to every dozen eggs you freeze. Addition of the salt or sugar prevents the yolks from thickening and allows you to use them in baked products. The end use of the eggs will help you determine which ingredient (salt, corn syrup, or sugar) to add to the eggs.

Blend the mixture gently; avoid whipping air into the mixture. Package the eggs and freeze. Add the previously listed amounts to either whole eggs or egg yolks that have been separated. If you choose to freeze the whites alone, they do not need to have any salt, sugar, or corn syrup added.

Thaw any of these frozen eggs in the refrigerator. Stir or shake them before using. You must use the thawed eggs within 3-5 days.



Food Preservation, Food Safety

Preserving Winter Squash

October 2nd, 2014

winter squashIf you have winter squash and are wanting to preserve it remember that you can NOT home can pumpkin or winter squash puree. If you want it pureed then you should freeze it.  If you want to can it, it must done in a pressure canner and only when cut into 1 inch cubes.

According to the Elizabeth L. Andress, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Extension Food Safety Specialist, Department of Foods and Nutrition, home canning is not recommended for pumpkin butter or any mashed or pureed pumpkin or winter squash.  In 1989, the USDA’s Extension Service published the Complete Guide to Home Canning that remains the basis of Extension recommendations today, found in the September 1994 revision. The only directions for canning pumpkin and winter squash are for cubed pulp. In fact, the directions for preparing the product include the statement, “Caution: Do not mash or puree.”

Some of the factors that are critical to the safety of canned pumpkin products are the viscosity (thickness), the acidity and the water activity. Pumpkin and winter squash are also low-acid foods (pH > 4.6) capable of supporting the growth of Clostridium botulinum bacteria which can cause the very serious illness, botulism, under the right storage conditions. If the bacteria are present and survive processing, and the product has a high enough water activity, they can thrive and produce toxin in the product.

To process using a hot pack, wash pumpkin or squash and remove the seeds. Cut into 1 inch slices and peel.  Cut the flesh into 1 inch cubes.  Add to a saucepot of boiling water, boil 2 minutes.  Pack the hot cubes into hot jars, leaving 1 inch headspace.  Fill jar to 1 inch from top with boiling hot cooking liquid.  Remove the air bubbles.  Wipe jar rims, adjust lids and process.

Table 1. Recommended process time for Pumpkin and Winter Squash in a dial-gauge pressure canner.
Canner Pressure (PSI) at Altitudes of
Style of Pack Jar Size Process Time 0 – 2,000 ft 2,001 – 4,000 ft 4,001 – 6,000 ft 6,001 – 8,000 ft
Hot Pints 55 min 11 lb 12 lb 13 lb 14 lb
Quarts 90 11 12 13 14


Table 2. Recommended process time for Pumpkin and Winter Squash in a weighted-gauge pressure canner.
Canner Pressure (PSI) at Altitudes of
Style of Pack Jar Size Process Time 0 – 1,000 ft Above 1,000 ft
Hot Pints 55 min 10 lb 15 lb
Quarts 90 10 15

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Food Preservation, Food Safety

Are my old cans still safe to eat?

September 29th, 2014

One of the questions we hear a lot at AnswerLine is: How long can I keep cans of food? Often, these callers are doing some spring cleaning or moving an elderly relative into a new home. They discover a number of cans that are several years old and wonder if it is still safe to use those cans.

photo 4The way cans are stored will affect the life of the food inside the cans. If foods are stored in a cool, dry place with a stable temperature they will last longer than cans stored in places where the temperature fluctuates widely. Damp storage areas can cause the can to rust which will also shorten the shelf life of the can.

Acidic foods, like fruits, have a shorter shelf life than low acid foods such as meat or vegetables. Dented, swollen, or rusty cans are an indication that the food inside the container is no longer safe to consume. This may also be an indication that the botulism bacteria, Clostridium botulinum, are present. Even a tiny exposure to these bacteria could be deadly. Discard these cans safely, in a spot where no other person or animal will be tempted to eat the food.

I was surprised to find this can in my own pantry.  The best if used by date was February 15, 2010.  Generally speaking, commercially canned food will be at good quality for photo 22-5 years after the best if used by date.  This can was peach pie filling, so the acidic nature of the filling shortened the shelf life of the product. We would advise you to use home canned foods within the first year or two at the most.

If the lid or inside of the can appears corroded when you open it, the food inside should still be safe to eat. Acid foods can cause this reaction during storage time. The taste, nutrition, and texture of foods will decline over long storage times. Remember to bring the older cans to the front of the shelf as you put groceries away after a shopping trip. This kind of inventory control can help prevent food waste.








Food Safety

Freezing Garden Herbs

September 25th, 2014

Freezing Garden Herbs

We talked about drying herbs in the last blog.  But did you know you can successfully freeze herbs with great results?  Freezing is an excellent way to preserve tender herbs, such as dill, chives, parsley, and tarragon. It is very easy to freeze herbs, and it takes much less time than drying.

While it is possible to place herbs right out of the garden into the freezer, the quality in terms of taste and color will not be quite like fresh herbs; slightly bitter flavors and drab grayish-green colors are common. Frozen herbs can be improved by blanching before freezing. They still will not taste and look quite like fresh herbs, but they will come very close. They are best used frozen, but frozen herbs can be thawed in the refrigerator; they will keep approximately one week.

To freeze fresh herbs:

  •  Rinse freshly picked herbs.Blanch for a few seconds using the following method:
  •  Hold the herbs by their stems with tongs,
  •  Dip them in boiling water briefly; swish around a bit.
  •  When their color brightens, remove them from water.
  •  Cool, either by holding them under running water and then blotting dry with paper towels; or by placing them on towels after taking them from the boiling water to let them air cool.
  •  Remove stems, chop, if desired or leave in whole leaves to chop later.

Freeze in one of several ways:
1)Place in small plastic freezer bags in amounts that will be used at one time.
imagesfreezing2)Place in ice cube trays and cover with water; repackage into freezer bags when frozen. (Note: if boiling water is used to cover herbs, the cover not only protects the herbs from expo sure to the air, it also blanches them at the same time.)
To make it easier to separate herbs, lay the dried herbs out in a single layer on wax paper. Roll or fold the paper so that there is a layer of paper separating each layer of herb. Then, pack, paper and all, in freezer bags or wrap in freezer-rated plastic wrap. To use, break off as much as is needed, and chop if it wasn’t chopped earlier.


These can be used in cooked dishes. These usually are not suitable for garnish, as the frozen product becomes limp when it thaws.

Happy freezing!!


 jill sig



Drying Herbs

September 22nd, 2014

herbs-pots-garden-decorations-33439875Drying Fresh Garden Herbs

Whether you grow herbs in your garden or landscape or have a few pots growing, most herbs can be harvested, dried and stored for use during the winter months. By preserving these flavorful seasonings, you can enjoy them well into the winter months.

Many herbs, such as basil, rosemary, and sage, are harvested for their leaves. Gather these when the flowers are about to open. The oils in the leaves, which give the herbs their distinctive flavors and aroma are at their maximum levels at this stage of growth. Remove approximately 1/3 of the current year’s growth on perennial herbs. Annual herbs can be cut completely back. Most herbs can be harvested in midsummer and again in the fall.

Harvest herbs early in the morning, after the dew has evaporated and before the sun becomes too hot. After harvesting, rinse the herbs in cool water.  Next place them on paper toweling to dry.  Then dry them using one of the following methods:

herbs-hanging-drying-parsley-sage-rosemary-thyme-string-line-ladybird-pegs-over-marble-background-34354607Air Drying is the most popular method used to dry herbs.  To dry whole branches or stems, gather 8-12 stems in a bunch. Tie the ends of the stems together and hang each bunch upside down in a warm (70 – 80 F) dry area, not in direct sunlight. The herbs should be dry in 2-4 weeks.  After drying, crush or crumble the leaves and store in airtight jars in a cool, dry place.

Drying Tray A drying tray consists of a mesh screen or cheesecloth attached to a wooden frame.  A small window screen also works well. Place blocks under the corners of the frying tray to insure good air circulation.  Place a single layer of leaves or branches on the drying surface and keep stock-photo-21254192-herbsthe herbs in a warm, dry area until they are thoroughly dry.

Oven To oven dry herbs, spread in a single layer of leaves or stems on a cookie sheet or shallow baking pan. Place the herbs in a warm, not hot, (up to 180 F) oven for 3 – 4 hours. Leave the door open and stir the herbs periodically until they are thoroughly dry.

Microwave Place the herbs on a paper towel and cover with a second sheet.  Set the microwave control on high and dry the herbs for 1-3 minutes. (This method requires some experimentation to determine exact drying time.) Then remove the herbs and let them cool.

Some herbs, such as dill, caraway, and coriander, are valued for their seed. The seed heads should be harvested just before they turn brown so that the seeds don’t fall off while cutting.  Cut off the entire head and place in a paper bag.  Then place the bags in a warm, dry area.  After drying, shake the seeds loose into the bag.  Remove any chaff by pouring from one container to another outside in a gentle wind.

Use your dried herbs all year long to flavor your soups, stews, casseroles, meats, etc. Happy Drying!

jill sig









How do I know if it is a jam or a jelly?

September 18th, 2014

pepper jelly

It seems that we speak to people making fruit spreads all summer long. It starts when rhubarb and strawberries are ripe and continues into the fall.  The terminology of fruit spreads can be confusing so here is a simple explanation of the variety of products that can be made from fruit.

  1.  Jelly—possibly the most popular product for home food preservation. Jelly is made from fruit juice, sugar, and pectin. Jelly is somewhat clear and translucent with a bright color. The sugar in jelly is what preserves it, thus it is an important ingredient. Jelly should form a thick enough jel to “jiggle” when shaken, yet tender enough jel to spread on bread or toast.
  2. Jam –probably the second most popular product for our callers. Jam is a thick, sweet spread made with the whole fruit. Often the fruit is chopped or crushed. Jam will be spreadable but somewhat thicker than jelly.
  3. Preserves—these are made from whole fruit or chopped pieces of fruit. The fruit is plump and tender surrounded by somewhat thickened, clear syrup.
  4. Conserves—have a consistency more like a jam and often include nuts and dried fruits along with the fresh fruit.
  5. Marmalades—are soft jellies that contain bits or pieces of fruit and fruit peels. Often they are made of citrus fruits.


Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Nutrition