Try Something New!

November 30th, 2015

Looking at the weather today, it is hard to imagine that we can still eat foods that are “in season”.  Right now, during the season of winter,  winter vegetables (ok, late fall vegetables) are in season.  It is easy to find squash, Brussels sprouts, turnips, and other root vegetables at the grocery store.  While we search for answers to callers questions we often find great publications from other Extension services.  Nebraska Extension has a wonderful publication with some delicious recipes for winter vegetables.  These recipes are for hearty and filling foods that are both delicious and nutritious.  Enjoy!


Signature AnswerLine Specialist


Food Preparation, recipes

STOP, don’t wash that Turkey

November 23rd, 2015

This time of year, we got a LOT of questions about preparing turkey.  I’m sure that won’t shock anyone, but some of this information that we share with callers might surprise you.

Many of our callers are not familiar with the recommendation that we should not wash poultry of any kind before cooking.  It just doesn’t feel “right” for people to skip washing the poultry.  We have to explain that washing the poultry can cause more problems than it cures.  The risk of cross contamination is very high when we start rubbing and splashing as poultry is being scrubbed.  One of the biggest sources of the contamination is our hands, which now carry the bacteria we washed off of the poultry.  This can spread to other parts of the kitchen and could contaminate other foods as well.  It is surprising just how many surfaces a person can touch with contaminated hands.  Protect your family this Thanksgiving.  Skip washing the turkey.

Signature AnswerLine Specialist

Food Preparation, Food Safety, Holiday ideas

Making food ahead

November 19th, 2015

chopping tomatoes for salsaThis is the time of year that we get lots of questions about preparing food ahead of time.  Callers want to make Thanksgiving day (or any day they have family celebrations planned) an easier day by fixing as much of the meal ahead of time as possible.  Often callers want to make and freeze pies and vegetable casseroles days or weeks before the holiday.  Those items typically freeze well and as long as the food is prepared and handled safely there is no problem with an early preparation.

Other callers want to partially cook foods and store them in the refrigerator for a few days before finishing the cooking process and serving.  We typically discourage this sort of short cut as foods that have been partially cooked, cooled, and stored run the risk of bacteria growing to unsafe levels during the storage time.  Those bacteria may not all be killed during the final cooking process. Additionally, the quality of these dishes may not be what we consider “company food”.

We do offer a few tips to people that want to make life easier on the actual holiday.

  1. Dry ingredients can be premeasured and mixed together for baked products and wet ingredients could be premeasured and held in the fridge.  It only takes a couple of minutes to break some eggs and mix all the ingredients together just prior to baking.  And premeasured ingredients don’t make much of a mess in the kitchen.
  2. Plan out the table settings and table linens ahead of time.  Wash and iron linens or wash serving dishes that are used infrequently. This can be done a week or two before the holiday.
  3. Set the table(s) the night before the event.
  4. Either buy precut raw vegetables or cut your own a day or so before the event.
  5. Did you know you can freeze mashed potatoes, or use a recipe that should be prepared a day or so before the event.  There are many recipes for Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes that include garlic, cream cheese, and sour cream.  These recipes should be prepared a day early so the flavors can blend.
  6. Make a time schedule of the preparation times for the items in your menu.  This alone will help you feel more organized and prepared for everything necessary to make the holiday work flow smoothly.

Hopefully these tips will make your holiday easier this year.

    Extension and Outreach Specialist

Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Food Safety

Freeze some yeast rolls for Thanksgiving

November 16th, 2015

Rolls I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about making food ahead for Thanksgiving. I’ve noticed information in some of the blogs that I read about making and freezing yeast dough ahead of time and then thawing and baking on Thanksgiving Day.  This method is something that I’ve personally been doing for many years.  I have a favorite roll recipe that I often make for our large family reunions, holiday meals, or just family get-togethers.  The recipe happens to be one that includes a fair amount of butter, milk, eggs, and a bit of sugar.  I always use my bread machine, set to the dough setting.  This allows me to measure out ingredients and walk away to do some other chores while the machine is preparing my dough.  When the bread machine is done with the dough cycle, I shape my rolls and put them on a lightly greased cookie sheet.  I freeze them without letting the shaped rolls rise.  Next, I cover the rolls and put the sheet into the freezer immediately.  As soon as the rolls are solidly frozen, I remove the rolls from the sheet and put them into an airtight container.  Sometimes I use a Tupperware bowl, other times I use a zip style freezer bag.

cinnamon rollsI try to make and freeze the rolls within about 2 weeks of the event. On the day of the event, I place rolls onto the baking sheet and allow them to rise until doubled before I bake them.  This step generally takes about an hour to an hour and a half.  I usually bake them while the turkey (or other meat) is resting before carving.  Any deficiency in the rolls caused by freezing tends to be minimized when you are enjoying rolls fresh out of the oven.

There is still time to make some rolls for your celebrations this year.  Enjoy!

   Extension and Outreach Specialist and home baker

Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Quanity Cooking

Storing Your Garden Vegetables

November 12th, 2015

imageMost of us have harvested our last produce from the garden for the year. It is now time to find ways to store them to maintain their best quality over the winter months.  Here are some suggestions for some produce commonly found in home gardens from Richard Jauron, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Horticulturist.


Onions should be harvested when most of the tops have fallen over and begun to dry. Carefully pull or dig the bulbs with the tops attached.

After harvesting, dry or cure the onions in a warm, dry, well-ventilated location, such as a shed or garage. Spread out the onions in a single layer on a clean, dry surface. Cure the onions for two to three weeks until the onion tops and necks are thoroughly dry and the outer bulb scales begin to rustle. After the onions are properly cured, cut off the tops about 1 inch above the bulbs. As the onions are topped, discard any that show signs of decay. Use the thick-necked bulbs as soon as possible as they don’t store well. An alternate preparation method is to leave the onion tops untrimmed and braid the dry foliage together.

Place the cured onions in a mesh bag, old nylon stocking, wire basket, or crate. It’s important that the storage container allow air to circulate through the onions. Store the onions in a cool, moderately dry location. Storage temperatures should be 32 to 40 degrees F. The relative humidity should be 65 to 70 percent. Possible storage locations include a basement, cellar, or garage. Hang the braided onions from a rafter or ceiling. Since the temperature in an unheated garage may fall well below 32 degrees F, an alternate storage site will be needed when bitterly cold weather arrives.


Potatoes can be harvested when the tubers are small and immature (“new” potatoes) or when the crop is fully mature. “New” potatoes are dug when the plants are still green and the tubers are greater than 1 inch in diameter. New potatoes should be used immediately, as they do not store well.

Potatoes grown for storage should be harvested after the vines have died and the crop is mature. To check crop maturity, dig up one or two hills after the plants have died. If the skins on the tubers are thin and rub off easily, the crop is not fully mature. Allow the crop to mature for several more days before harvesting the potatoes. When harvesting potatoes, avoid bruising, skinning or cutting the tubers. Damaged potatoes should be used as soon as possible.

After harvesting the potatoes, cure the tubers at a temperature of 50 to 60 F and high relative humidity (85 to 90 percent) for two weeks. The curing period allows minor cuts and bruises to heal. Thickening of the skin also occurs during the curing process.

Once cured, store potatoes at a temperature of 40 F and relative humidity of 90 to 95 percent.  Store the crop in a dark location, as potatoes turn green when exposed to light. If storage temperatures are above 50 F, the tubers may begin to sprout in two or three months. When stored below 40 F, potatoes develop a sugary, sweet taste. Sugary potatoes can be restored to their natural flavor by placing them at room temperature for a few days prior to use. Do not store potatoes with apples or other fruit. Ripening fruit give off ethylene gas, which promotes sprouting of tubers.

Winter Squash and Pumpkins

To insure a long life, pumpkins and winter squash must be harvested, cured, and stored properly. Immature fruit are poor quality and cannot be successfully stored. Mature fruit that have been removed from the vine are still alive. Proper curing and storage slows the rate of respiration and prolongs the storage life of the fruit.

Harvest pumpkins when they have developed a uniform orange color and have a hard rind. Mature winter squash have very hard skins that can’t be punctured with your thumb nail. Additionally, mature winter squash have dull-looking surfaces. Harvest all mature pumpkins and winter squash before a hard freeze. A light frost will destroy the vines but should not harm the fruit. However, a hard freeze may damage the fruit.

After harvesting, cure the pumpkins and winter squash (except for the acorn types) at a temperature of 80 to 85°F and a relative humidity of 80 to 85 percent. Curing helps to harden their skins and heal any cuts and scratches. Do not cure acorn squash. The high temperature and relative humidity during the curing process actually reduce the quality and storage life of acorn squash.

After curing, store pumpkins and winter squash in a cool, dry, well-ventilated location. Storage temperatures should be 50 to 55°F. Do not store pumpkins and squash near apples, pears, or other ripening fruit. Ripening fruit release ethylene gas which shortens the storage life of pumpkins and squash. (Actually, the best storage temperatures for most apples and pears is 30 to 32°F.) When storing pumpkins, place them in a single layer where they don’t touch one another. Good air circulation helps to prevent moisture from forming on the surfaces of the fruit and retards the growth of decay fungi and bacteria. Placing pumpkins in piles generates unwanted heat which may result in the rotting of some fruit. Periodically check pumpkins and winter squash in storage and discard any fruit which show signs of decay.

Properly cured and stored pumpkins should remain in good condition for 2 to 3 months. The storage life of acorn, butternut, and hubbard squash is approximately 5 to 8 weeks, 2 to 3 months, and 5 to 6 months, respectively.


Home-grown apples that will be stored should be harvested when they have reached minimum maturity but are not yet ripe. Mature apples are full-size and have a light straw or greenish-yellow undercolor. The undercolor is the “base” color beneath the red blush. The intensity of the red color is not an indicator of maturity. At minimum maturity, apples will be hard and crisp. They will have developed their characteristic flavor but will be somewhat starchy.

Sort the apples that are to be stored. Remove any that are bruised, cut, or show signs of decay. Plan to consume the larger fruit of any cultivar first, saving the smaller ones for later in the season. The larger apples are usually the first to lose their quality and show signs of internal breakdown.

Low temperature slows the respiration rate and preserves good quality. Apples last several times longer at 32°F than they do at 70°F. Most apple cultivars should be stored at 30 to 32°F for optimum storage. However, McIntosh apples should be kept around 36°F. If possible, the storage temperature should remain constant. The freezing temperature of apples is 27.8 to 29.4°F, so it is best not to store apples in unheated locations where the temperature may get too low. Once thawed frozen apples deteriorate quickly, resulting in softening of flesh and loss of texture. Relative humidity must be kept high, between 90 and 95 percent, in a fruit storage area. If the humidity is not maintained, apples dehydrate and shrivel, particularly Golden Delicious.

Apples can be kept well in humid cellars that maintain a cool temperature below 40°F. They also can be stored in unheated outbuildings or garages, in Styrofoam chests, or with hay or other insulating materials piled around them to prevent them from freezing.

If you are interested in harvesting and storing other vegetables here is some additional information.

  signature,  AnswerLine Specialist

Food Preservation, Horticulture

Winter Squash

November 9th, 2015


winter squash

I love this time of year when there is a chill in the air and a large selection of winter squash in the stores and markets. Winter squash is one of my all-time favorite foods and is one of the healthiest foods available in our diet. There are so many different varieties available that it can be confusing as to how to use them in cooking.

Winter squash come in many shapes and colors. No two look exactly alike. The different varieties of winter squash may be substituted for each other in recipes.  Following is some great information that will hopefully take the mystery out of selecting and preparing squash:

Variety Texture Flavor Soup Steam Stuff Size Fun Facts
Acorn Moist, tender Sweet, nutty X X X ¾ – 2 lbs Was recently the most popular in U.S.
Butternut Moist Very sweet X X 2-5 lbs Use in place of pumpkin in pies for smoother texture
Delicata Semi dry Sweet, nutty X X 5-6” long, 2-3” diameter The skin is edible
Kabocha Tender, dense Sweet, nutty, very flavorful X X 2-5 lbs Pairs well with Asian spices
Pie Pumpkin Tender Sweet X X X 4-7 lbs A 4 lb pumpkin will yield 1.5 cups of mashed pumpkin
Spaghetti Stringy, firm Slightly sweet X 3-5 lbs Use in place of noodles in spaghetti
Turban Floury Nutty, deep X 4-7 lbs Makes a fun soup tureen when roasted

The Astoria Co-op in Astoria, Oregon has developed a great visual winter squash chart .

Selecting Squash:

Look for squash that feels heavy for its size and has hard, deep-colored skin free from blemishes. Do not choose squash with sunken or moldy spots. Skin color variations do not affect the flavor of squash.

Preparing Squash:

Cutting: Winter squash have hard skin and flesh. To cut in half, grasp firmly and use a sharp knife to slice through to the center. Then flip and cut the other side until the squash falls open. Remove the seeds. Hint: Perforate with a knife and place the whole winter squash in the microwave for 3 minutes; then cut it easily, remove seeds.

All varieties are great for baking, roasting and pureeing.  Once squash is cooked and mashed, it can be used in soups, main dishes, vegetable side dishes, even breads, muffins, cookies or pies.

BAKE: Using a whole winter squash, pierce the rind with a fork and bake in a 350 degree oven 45 minutes or until soft. Acorn or butternut squash are frequently cut in half, baked, and served in the shell.

BOIL OR STEAM: Cut into quarters or rings and  steam 25 minutes or until tender, or boil just as you would potatoes.  Add peeled squash cubes to your favorite soups, stews, beans, gratins, and vegetable ragouts.

MICROWAVE: Place halves or quarters, cut side down, in a shallow dish.  Add 1/4 cup water. Cover tightly and microwave on HIGH 6 minutes per pound.  Whole squash can be poked all over with a fork.  Microwave on HIGH approximately 5 to 10 minutes depending on the size of the squash.

ROAST:  Preheat oven to 400°F. Halve the squash lengthwise and discard seeds. If desired, peel with a vegetable peeler or cut into big chunks and keep steady on the cutting board while cutting off the peel with a knife. Cut into 1-inch cubes. Transfer to a large, rimmed baking sheet. Toss with oil, salt and pepper and spread out in a single layer. Roast, tossing occasionally, until just tender and golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Here’s a short video from our friends at Spend Smart Eat Smart:

Winter squash is on of the most nutritious foods available to us as consumers.


Winter squash is on of the most nutritious foods available to us as consumers and following are some of its key nutrients.

•  Vitamin A: helps with seeing at night and helps the immune system
•  Vitamin C: helps heal cuts and helps the immune system
•  Fiber: helps reduce cholesterol levels and may lower your risk of heart disease

With its ease of preparation and health benefits, pick up some winter squash today and enjoy it with your family!

 Jill Jensen, AnswerLine specialist and aspiring cook




Food Preparation, recipes

Freezing a Pumpkin Pie

November 5th, 2015

pumpkin pkeAre you wondering how to freeze a pumpkin pie?  We get so many calls from people that are having a huge group for Thanksgiving and want to prepare as much food as possible ahead of time.  If that is your situation this year, follow these directions.

Freeze your pumpkin pie unbaked. Prepare the pie shell and filling as usual. Have the filling cold before adding it to the unbaked, chilled pie shell. Package and freeze.

When you are ready to use your pie, bake it without thawing at 400F for 10 minutes. Then reduce the oven temperature to 325F to finish baking. Use the pie within 4-5 weeks of freezing for best quality.

s signature - Copy

Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Holiday ideas

Cooking Oils

November 2nd, 2015


Are you bewildered when you go to the store and look at the large display of cooking oils? There are a wide variety of oils on the market and it can be confusing to know which ones are best for cooking and which are healthy for your heart.

First, remember that oil is a fat, and fat calories are still fat calories, no matter which type of oil you use. So use the least amount of fat possible to prepare your foods while still getting the greatest amount of taste and health benefits.

There are some important points to remember when cooking with oils.

  1. Smoke Point:

The smoke point is the temperature that causes oil to start smoking, which produces toxic fumes and harmful free radicals. Oils have different smoke points, so some oils are better suited for cooking at higher temperatures than others.

High Smoke Point Oils (best for searing and browning)

Note: also deep frying, but this method is unhealthy and not recommended.

Medium High Smoke Point Oils

(best for baking, oven cooking or stir-frying)

Medium Smoke Point Oils

(best for light sautéing, sauces and low-heat baking)

No-heat Oils

(best for making dressings, dips or marinades)

Almond Canola Corn Flaxseed
Avocado Grapeseed Hemp Wheat Germ
Hazelnut Macadamia nut Pumpkin seed Walnut
Palm Light virgin olive Sesame
Sunflower Peanut Soybean
Light olive/refined olive Virgin coconut


2. Which oils are healthiest?

All cooking oils are healthy because the fat in liquid vegetable oil is mostly unsaturated, including both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Using unsaturated fats in place of more saturated fats can help you lower your total cholesterol and your LDL’s. LDL’s are the so-called “bad cholesterol” because they tend to stick to the sides of your blood vessels.

Vegetable oils are trans fat-free. Trans fats are formed when food producers make a solid fat from a liquid vegetable oil. For example stick margarine is made from liquid vegetable oil and made solid by the food manufacturer through a process called “partial hydrogenation”. This is also how vegetable shortening is made. Many researchers believe that trans fats may be just as bad or even worse for us by clogging arteries!

3. Omega 3 Fats

Omega 3 fats are one of the polyunsaturated fats. Research suggests that Omega 3 fatty acids may lower your chances of getting heart disease, high blood pressure, and some cancers. They might also help with arthritis. We cannot make omega 3 fats in our bodies so we need to get them from our foods. Oils high in Omega 3 fats include: flaxseed, canola, soybean, and walnut.

4. Flavor

So which oils should you use in cooking? The taste of oils should play a role in your buying and cooking decisions. Olive oil is commonly used in salad dressings and for sautéing vegetables because of its distinctive flavor. It also makes an excellent alternative to butter – just put a little olive oil in a small dish and dip your bread. Canola and other vegetable oils have a blander flavor which makes them suitable for baking or any time you don’t want a strong flavor.

jill sig

Food Preparation, Nutrition

Enjoy pumpkin seeds

October 29th, 2015

It’s time to get those pumpkins carved and it is my husband’s favorite time of year.  He loves pumpkin seeds but the ones he buys the rest of the year just are not as tasty as those we make at home.  So he is glad imagewhen it is time to roast our own seeds.

It really is an easy thing to do.  As you carve the pumpkin, scoop out the seeds into a colander and rinse the pumpkin “goo” off the seeds.  You will need to get your hands a little dirty as the stream of water will not remove all of the “goo”, you will need to move the seeds around with your hands. F. for

Next, place the wet seeds onto a dry cookie sheet.  Salt or season as desired and bake at 325°F. for 15-20 minutes or until lightly browned.  Store in an airtight container.  Enjoy.

You also have the option of roasting the seeds unseasoned and then drizzling with a bit of butter or olive oil and then adding seasoning.  Ranch can be a popular choice.

Extension and Outreach Specialist and mom

Food Preparation, Food Preservation

Tips for maintaining cutting boards

October 26th, 2015

Cutting boardFall can be a great time to think about catching up on some things around the house. I’m thinking about giving my cutting boards a thorough cleaning and oiling after the workout they got this summer. I have a number of cutting boards at my house. I use my vintage wooden cutting boards for cutting fresh fruits and vegetables. I use my plastic boards for cutting both raw and cooked meat. Of course I use a different cutting board for raw and cooked meats to avoid cross contamination.

I clean the wooden boards with a damp dishcloth. I try not to get the cutting boards overly wet as that can cause cracking. I sanitize the boards after use with a mild bleach solution. I use 1 teaspoon of bleach in a quart of water. I spray the surface of the board with this solution and let the board air dry. If I used a stronger bleach solution, the boards might dry out and crack.

My wooden boards do not have a varnished finish, so I oil the boards with mineral oil when they seem to be getting dry. I warm the oil a bit and apply a coat, going in the same direction as the wood grain. I let the oil dry and give it another coat after 6 or so hours. This oiling will help keep the board from drying out and cracking. If that happened, I would have to toss the board or use it only decoratively. If my boards were deeply scored by knife marks, I would sand them and then oil them.

I send my plastic cutting boards through the dish washer. The hot water and dish washing detergent sanitize the boards after each use. Now I’ll be ready for all the cutting and chopping I do to make those hearty stews, soups, and casseroles this winter.






Cleaning, Food Preparation, Food Safety