Successful Pie Baking

December 18th, 2014

imageIf you are in charge of making pies during the holidays you know that the crust can make or break your dessert.  With so many recipes to choose from here is a list of what each of the ingredients in your pie dough is and how it functions.

  • Use all-purpose flour or pastry flour for best results. Wheat flour can be used but it produces heavy dough that doesn’t roll out well. It works better when combined with all-purpose flour.
  • Fat adds tenderness to crusts. Shortening and lard produce a flakier, tenderer crust. Butter in a crust recipe may cause it to be less tender and flaky but it will have a rich, buttery smell and taste. Oil will produce a crust that is crumbly rather than flaky. Make sure that the fat is cold and mix it quickly since over mixing can result in an oily crust. If you are mixing more than one type of fat combine them, then chill before mixing with the other ingredients.
  • A liquid is necessary to develop the gluten in the flour. It also helps to leaven the dough since the liquid is turned to steam during baking. If you add too much liquid your crust will be tough so add the smallest amount listed on your recipe, and then add more if needed. Using ice cold liquids will keep the fat from melting, making the crust flakier. Milk can be used but the baked crust will be less crisp.
  • Sometimes lemon juice, vinegar or sour cream is added to the dough. The acidity helps to relax the dough and tenderize the crust.
  • Salt is added mostly for flavor.

Understanding the function of the ingredients will make pie baking easier and more successful!

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Food Preparation, Holiday ideas, recipes

Tips for Travel with Children

December 15th, 2014


chaseIf a trip to visit relatives is part of your holiday plans this year, you may want to consider some of these ideas to make the trip just a bit easier.

  1. Let children know the schedule of the trip in advance. When children know what to expect they can better adjust to changes in the itinerary. Let them know the day and time the trip starts, if they are expected to nap or have a quiet time, if meals may be later than normal, and how long the trip will take. If they are unfamiliar with a family or destination, pictures can help the children feel more comfortable.
  2. Children, as well as the rest of us, travel better with full tummies and empty bladders.
  3. Pack a bag for each child with small toys, books, tablets and crayons, and favorite toys. The trip will seem even more special if there are several small surprises to unwrap. We often wrapped a box of animal crackers for our kids. They were allowed to decide when and how much of the box they consumed. When they were in charge, the box lasted most of the day.
  4. If a long car trip is in your future, plan rest stops often. Use these stops for both bathroom breaks and activity breaks. Help them work off some energy before getting back into the car to resume the trip.
  5. If you plan to travel by plane, include some gum or hard candies to help children adjust pressure changes during take-off or landing.
  6. Travel on less busy days if possible. Try to avoid the day before or the day after the holiday.
  7. Double check reservations and schedules several days before the trip. Be sure you have all documents you will need for travel.
  8. Christmas gifts can be mailed to your destination in advance; this will make travel less complicated as well as reduce the amount of luggage necessary.
  9. If traveling by air, keep all essential items (travel documents, rivers license, ID cards, and prescription medicine) in your carry-on luggage.
  10. Be sure all items in your carry-on luggage are TSA approved.
  11. Have a back-up plan if flights are canceled or roads are closed. You may want to make a list of phone numbers to change flights or alert relatives of changes in your schedule.

With a bit of thought and planning even a trip to visit relatives a long distance away can be fun.

Happy Travels




Holiday ideas, Travel

Gift Ideas for Elders

December 11th, 2014




Finding gift ideas for elderly relatives for holidays can prove to be challenging! I often hear when I ask what they want for Christmas “I don’t need a thing!”  Since finding something perfect isn’t easy, here are some suggestions that might help you when shopping.



  • Give a box of stationary and a book of stamps.
  • Pay in advance for services like window washing, house cleaning, haircuts, snow blowing or lawn mowing.
  • Give them a photo album or a digital frame and ask other family members to contribute pictures to help fill it.
  • Contact a local florist and have flowers delivered once a month.
  • Give gift certificates to their favorite restaurants and include a box of food storage containers for their leftovers.
  • A medical bracelet listing important medical information like diabetes or allergies.
  • Books or books on tape.
  • Warm socks or slippers.
  • Bird feeders to put outside the window that they sit by.
  • An indoor/ outdoor thermometer.
  • Medication organizers and pill cutters.
  • Newspaper or magazine subscriptions.
  • Accessible bathroom aids like bathtub safety rails or handheld water sprayers.
  • Give their favorite coffee or teas.
  • A greeting card file filled with birthday, wedding and sympathy cards for the next year complete with a birthday calendar of family members.

These are a few ideas that will be appreciated by all who receive them, but remember nothing is appreciated more than giving them your time.

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Consumer Management, Holiday ideas

Roll Out Sugar Cookies

December 8th, 2014


Making and decorating roll out sugar cookies is a fun family activity at our house.  We challenge each other to see who comes up with the most creative decorating ideas and we get to sample any of the cookies that break while frosting them!

Rolled cookies are usually fairly thin and crispy so the dough should be rolled to about 1/8 inch thick.  The thinner they are rolled out the crispier and more fragile they will be.  If you would like them softer simply leave them thicker and under bake them slightly by taking them out of the oven when they are still a little soft.

Your task will be much more successful if you chill the dough for at least 30 minutes prior to rolling out.  When it is chilled simply take out enough dough for one rolling.  Leave the rest in the refrigerator to stay cold.  The work surface should be slightly floured.  The more flour that is incorporated into the dough the tougher the cookie will be.  If the dough becomes too soft to roll easily simply put it into the refrigerator again.

If you have problems transferring the cookies to the cookie sheets try rolling the dough out on a cooled cookie sheet and pull the excess dough away from the cut out cookies.

Start you own family traditions by decorating cookies for any holiday together.  These will be memories that will last a lifetime!

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Food Preparation, Holiday ideas

Tips for Mailing

December 4th, 2014

Every year it seems like Christmas arrives just a bit earlier. Like most people, I have family living far away. I want my grandchildren to enjoy their Christmas gifts on Christmas and not days or weeks later, so it is important to plan ahead.

When you are preparing a box for mailing, be sure to use a sturdy box.  The box should be large enough to accommodate both the gift and material to cushion the gift.  You can use packing peanuts or bubble wrap that you may have on hand from shipments you received. You can also use old newspapers that have been crumbled and stuffed around the gifts. You may want to include the address of the recipients on a paper inside the package, just in case the box is opened or the mailing label is destroyed. Be sure to tape the box shut carefully.  Use wide tape to ensure a good seal.  Cords, string, and twine will get caught in processing equipment–avoid using them.

imageOf course, if you don’t take the time to properly address your package, it may not arrive on time.  Remember these tips when addressing a package:

  • Print complete and correct addresses clearly in capital letters with a pen or permanent marker.
  • Do not use commas or periods.
  • Include the ZIP Code™+4 whenever possible.
  • Mark the package “Fragile” or “Perishable” when appropriate.
  • If you’re reusing a box, make sure all other addresses are covered or blacked out.

The United States Postal Service has listed these dates to ensure packages and mail are delivered in time for Christmas 2014:

  • Dec. 2   – First-Class Mail International
  • Dec. 2   – Priority Mail International
  • Dec. 10 – Priority Mail Express International
  • Dec. 15 – Standard Post
  • Dec. 17 – Global Express Guaranteed
  • Dec. 20 – First-Class Mail
  • Dec. 20 – Priority Mail
  • Dec. 23 – Priority Mail Express

I guess I should get serious about shopping so I can get some packages in the mail to Idaho!



Holiday ideas

Winter Survival Kit for Your Car

December 1st, 2014

Now that winter has arrived, it really is time to be sure your car is equipped for travel. The Iowa State Patrol suggests keeping these items in your car in case you are stranded.  slippery sidewalks

  1. Warm winter clothing; things like gloves, coat, and boots.
  2. Warm blankets or sleeping bags
  3. Flashlight-check to be sure the batteries are fresh
  4. First aid kit.
  5. Red flag or Send Help Sign or something to attract attention.
  6. Sack of dry sand or cat litter.
  7. Booster cables.
  8. Cell phone- car charger is also a good idea
  9. High energy food like candy bars or beef jerky.

Remember to plan ahead when traveling long distances this winter. Watch the weather reports and check on road conditions along your planned route. Iowa , Minnesota, and South Dakota have websites with updated road conditions.  Save these as favorites on your cell phone for easy access or download the cell phone app for your state; IowaMinnesota or South Dakota. Let friends or relatives know your destination and when you are expected to arrive. If you are delayed, let them know that you are still safe.

Drive at a safe speed for the weather conditions and maintain a safe following distance. Speed and following distance should be adjusted for current weather. Drive defensively and wear your seatbelts.  Make sure children are properly buckled into their safety seats.





Travel, Winter

Happy Thanksgiving

November 27th, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving from the AnswerLine staff


Turkey Dinner

Enjoy time spent with family and friends.


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Holiday ideas

Steps to Safely Fry a Turkey

November 24th, 2014

Have you ever thought about deep frying a turkey? It gives you very tender meat with a nice crispy texture, but in order to keep yourself and your food safe you need to follow some precautions.

  • Completely thaw your turkey or use a fresh turkey. Be sure to remove the neck and giblets bag before cooking.
  • Make sure that your surface where you are frying is flat and in a safe outdoor location that is far away from garages, decks and house siding.
  • Do NOT stuff your turkey.
  • Use a turkey that weighs 12 pounds or less.
  • Make sure your frying pot is large enough for your turkey to be covered by 1 to 2 inches of oil and that there is at least 3-5 inches space between the oil and the top of the pot, so the oil does not boil over the sides.
  • Heat the oil to 350° F. After it has reached this temperature slowly lower the turkey into the hot oil. Constantly monitor the temperature of the oil and never leave it unattended.
  • It will take approximately 3 to 5 minutes per pound for the turkey to cook.
  • Use a meat thermometer to see if the turkey has reached a minimum internal temperature of 165° F. in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.
  • If it has not reached that temperature return the turkey immediately to the oil to finish cooking.
  • When the turkey is finished cooking remove from the oil and place on a sturdy tray lined with paper towels to absorb the excess oil.
  • Let rest for 20 minutes before carving.
  • Be sure that the heat is turned off and the pot is put in a spot where nothing will disturb it.

By following these precautions your guests will enjoy a juicy turkey and you will have a safe Thanksgiving!

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Food Preparation, Food Safety, Holiday ideas, Household Equipment

Time to Thaw the Turkey!

November 20th, 2014


If you have not done so already, it is probably time to start thinking about thawing your turkey. There are three different ways to thaw your turkey, four if you count cooking it from the frozen state.

The first method is thawing the turkey in the refrigerator. This is perhaps the easiest method.  It is best to put the turkey on the lowest shelf of the refrigerator in a pan or cookie sheet.  This will turkey thawprevent drippings from the thawing bird contaminating other foods; especially ready to eat foods like fruits and vegetables.  Expect the turkey to thaw at a rate of 5 pounds for every 24 hours.  Plan to have the turkey thawed for no more than 2 days before cooking.  If you find your turkey thawing much faster than expected, you can refreeze overnight then continue thawing.  We never advise just setting the bird on a counter top for thawing.

Refrigerator Thawing Times

  • 4 to 12 pounds — 1 to 3 days
  • 12 to 16 pounds — 3 to 4 days
  • 16 to 20 pounds — 4 to 5 days
  • 20 to 24 pounds —5 to 6 days

If you suddenly realize you were supposed to begin thawing the turkey several days ago and find yourself running out of time to thaw it, use the cold water thawing method. For this method, you will need to allow 30 minutes per pound of turkey. Be sure the turkey is in a leak-proof plastic bag; this keeps the turkey from absorbing water.  Place the turkey in a sink full of cold water.  Change the turkey thaw2water every half hour—the water will get very cold—until the turkey is thawed.

Cold Water Thawing Times

  • 4 to 12 pounds — 2 to 6 hours
  • 12 to 16 pounds — 6 to 8 hours
  • 16 to 20 pounds — 8 to 10 hours
  • 20 to 24 pounds — 10 to 12 hours

Not enough time for the cold water method? Try defrosting in your microwave. Follow the directions that came with your microwave.  Plan to cook it immediately as the turkey may have developed hot spots while defrosting.

Call us at AnswerLine if you have further questions about getting that turkey thawed.


Food Preparation, Food Safety, Holiday ideas

Pumpkin Pie–Do I Need to Refrigerate It or Not?

November 17th, 2014


Pumpkin pie ready for bakingOne of the questions we are asked a lot before Thanksgiving is “Do I need to refrigerate my pumpkin pie or not?” Probably the main reason for the confusion is seeing all the pumpkin pies at the grocery store just sitting on the shelves—stored at room temperature.  The main difference between the grocery store bakery pies and the ones that you make at home is the ingredients.  Those bakery pies are made with shelf-stable ingredients which can include preservatives and anti-microbials that won’t allow the growth of bacteria. If you read the label on the pie you may see a notation of RT; indicating the pie can be stored at room temperature. Leftover pieces of these pies should be stored in the refrigerator.  Remember to use the pie within 2-3 days.  If you need to store it for a longer time, consider freezing the pie.

When you make your own pie from scratch, you should refrigerate it as soon as it has had a chance to cool. Homemade pies have ingredients like milk and eggs which provide a great medium for bacterial growth. If you prefer a warm piece of pie, you can always warm the pie just prior to serving.











Food Preparation, Food Safety, Holiday ideas