Archive for the ‘Food Preparation’ Category

Cooking ham

April 14th, 2014

Ham and Easter go together at our house.  Whether you are having spiral ham, cooking a whole ham or a fresh ham the cooking times vary.  To help you figure out how long it will take to cook your ham use this chart below.

cooking ham times

Here is additional information on ham and food safety from the Food Safety and Inspection Service.

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Food Preparation, Holiday ideas

Tender vs. Less Tender Cuts of Meat

March 20th, 2014

Tender vs. less tender meats. This can be a big subject but really it boils down to just a couple of simple concepts. If a muscle gets a lot of exercise in an animal it will be a less tender cut of meat. So the meat that comes from the front shoulder or hind end of either a cow or pig will be a less tender cut as as those animals do a LOT of walking around. Pork chops and beef steaks generally come from the rib or mid section of the animal. That area gets much less exercise than a leg or neck. Muscles that see little exercise are considered tender cuts.

The less tender cuts will be more flavorful than a tender cut or meat but require a bit of careful cooking to make a delicious meal. Less tender cuts must be cooked at a low temperature (325-350 degrees F), with moisture (but not necessarily a lot of liquid) and for a longer period of time than a tender cut.  This is why the less tender cut of meat called stew meat makes a delicious meal.  The same recipe made with sirloin steak would not be as flavorful.

The less tender cuts tend to be less expensive than the tender cuts. Just remember to plan a bit more time in your meal preparation to make the meat tender and delicious.


Food Preparation, recipes, Uncategorized

Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with Corned Beef!

March 13th, 2014
Reuben Sandwiches

Reuben Sandwiches for Dinner

I learn something new in this job almost every day and today’s blog topic, CORNED BEEF, can be counted as one. Did you know that the word “corn” in corned beef refers to the “corns” or grains of coarse salts used to cure it? I didn’t know that! Corned Beef is a brine-cured beef that often has potassium nitrate added to the brine to preserve the beef’s pink color. The concept of corned beef originated in Ireland which is documented in writings dating back to the 12th century. It is the most well known cured beef product in the US, made from the brisket.

Corned beef can be purchased “ready to eat” in the deli section of your local supermarket and is often served in Reuben Sandwiches. When corned beef is smoked with a spice mixture it is called pastrami. Corned beef consumption peaks around Saint Patrick’s Day, often being served as corned beef and cabbage. The New England boiled dinner is a similar dish, consisting of corned beef, cabbage and root vegetables.  Corned beef hash is a favorite for some individuals, served with fried eggs on the side.

For a tested Corned Beef and Cabbage recipe to make for St. Patrick’s Day, see the recipe below:


4 c. hot water
2 Tbsp. cider vinegar
2 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 large or 2 medium onions, cut into wedges
5 carrots, peeled and cut into 3-inch pieces
1 3-lb. corned beef round or brisket with spice packet
8 small white or yellow potatoes, scrubbed and cut into quarters
1 head of green cabbage (about 1 1/2 lbs.), cored and cut into 10 wedges

In a 6-quart electric slow cooker, combine the water, vinegar, sugar, pepper and onions, mixing well. Place the corned beef in the mixture. Scatter the potatoes and carrots over the top and along the sides.

Cover and cook on the “High” heat setting for 4 hours. Remove the lid and scatter the cabbage wedges over the top. Cover and continue cooking on “High” for 3 to 4 hours or longer until the beef is tender.

To serve, carve the beef into slices and serve with the cabbage, potatoes and carrots. Makes 6 to 8 servings.



This recipe thanks to Diane Mincher, a University of Vermont Extension Nutrition and Food Specialist.

Food Preparation, Holiday ideas, recipes

Candy Making Tips

February 10th, 2014

melting chocolateSince Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, it’s a good time to think about chocolate and how to work with it when making treats for your valentine. Whether you are making chocolate-dipped strawberries, truffles, or bon bons, there are several things to think about.

One of the most common concerns most of us have when working with chocolate is how to successfully melt it. There are three ways to melt chocolate: 1. in a double boiler; 2. in an oven set to 110 degrees F.; and in a microwave oven.

  •      The safest way to melt chocolate is probably in a double boiler. Keep the water at a simmer in the bottom vessel, making sure the top vessel does not come into contact with the water. Stir often during the melting process.
  •     Alternatively, you can melt chocolate in the oven.  Place grated chocolate or chocolate chips in a metal bowl into an oven set at 110 degrees F. Take out and stir on occasion. This method can take up to an hour to melt.
  •     Though seemingly convenient, melting chocolate in a microwave oven can be difficult. Most microwave ovens heat unevenly, causing some of your chocolate to overcook or burn while other parts remain unmelted. With diligence, you can successfully melt chocolate in the microwave. Use 10 to 15 second increments, stirring in between each increment.

How to store chocolate is another question we often get at work. It doesn’t matter if it is chocolate bark, baking chocolate, white chocolate or milk chocolate, they should all be treated the same. Chocolate should be tightly wrapped and stored away from strong odors since it easily absorbs flavors from food or other products located nearby. Somewhere between 65 and 68 degrees F. is the best temperature for storage, with no more than 50 to 55 percent relative humidity. With proper storage, white chocolate and milk chocolate should last for eight to 10 months. Darker chocolates: bitter, baking, unsweetened or dark, will be good for up to 2 years.


Food Preparation, Holiday ideas, recipes

Food Safety and Football Food

January 30th, 2014


imageWhen you are gearing up for a party while watching football here are some things to keep in mind:

  1.  Keep cold foods cold.  This may mean setting that bowl of chip dip into a larger bowl containing ice.   The dip will remain safe for the entire game if it is kept cold in this way.
  2. Keep hot foods hot.  Those little sausages in barbeque sauce will be safe—for as long as they last—if you serve them from your crock pot.  Remember to keep the crock pot hot.
  3. Disposable plates and cups make it easier to host your party and clean plates can eliminate fresh food being in contact with the remains of food eaten during the pre-game introductions.
  4. If you plan to serve several different hot foods, consider staggering the serving time throughout the game.   This way you don’t need to worry about food cooling off and becoming unsafe.

Enjoy the game! Knowing that the food you are serving is safe.



Food Preparation, Food Safety, Holiday ideas

Hotline Resources

January 27th, 2014

Sometimes, even in this day of Google searching and networking, it is hard to find the answer to a question.  I’ve listed hotline numbers for Iowa and Minnesota that may be helpful.  Remember that AnswerLine is only a phone call away if you don’t see a resource for the question that you have.



Hotlines available for all
Iowa Concern (800-447-1985)

  • Financial questions, legal issues, family transitions
  • Phones are answered all hours, all days
  • TTD (Telecommunications Device for Deaf Persons) (800-735-2942)
Teen Line (800-443-8336)

  • Personal and health-related information and referral
  • Phones are answered all hours, all days
  • Teen Line is an information/referral hotline
  • TTD (Telecommunications Device for Deaf Persons) (800-735-2942)
Farm On (877-BFC-1999)

  • Program to match beginning and retiring farmers
  • Hours are Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
BETS OFF (800-BETS-OFF) (800-238-7633)

  • Gambling a problem? Call to be connected to a treatment program
  • Concerned about a family member or friend? Call for information.
  • Need an informational packet for a training? We can send one free of charge.
  • Answered everyday, all day.
Hotlines available to Iowa Residents Only
AnswerLine (800-262-3804)

  • Questions relating to home and family
  • Relay Iowa (TTY) 800-735-2942
  • Hours are Monday through Friday from 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m.
  • Email questions to
Iowa Healthy Families (800-369-2229)

  • Health Information and Referral, Confidential
  • TDD (Telecommunications Device for Deaf Persons) (800-735-2942)
  • Phones are answered all hours, all days.
Hortline (515) 294-3108

  • Hortline provides assistance to home gardeners on lawn, garden, and ornamental questions
  • Hours are Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 12 noon and 1-4:30 p.m.
  • Email questions to
PORKLine (800-808-7675)

  • Available to assist Iowa pork producers in all aspects of pork production
  • Hours are Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Email questions to


The MN Bed Bug Hotline 612-624-2200 or 1-855-644-2200
The bed bug hotline at the University of Minnesota can:
 Provide information on bed bugs
 Suggest ways to reduce the number of bed bugs in your home
 Provide advice on selecting a Structural Pest Control Company
 Recommend steps you can use to avoid bed bugs in your everyday
life and while traveling.

Search: Lets Beat the Bug @letsbeatthebug


Minnesota Farm Information Line  800-232-9077

Minnesota agriculture and small acreage farm questions

Referrals made to local Extension Agriculture Personnel when available

Will answer some horticulture questions

Available: 8:30-1:30 Monday through Friday

Water Resources Center 800-322-8642

General water information and research information about water quality, shorelines, drinking water, and sewage and septic system questions.



Cleaning, Consumer Management, Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Home Environment, Housing, Laundry, Nutrition

Substitutions for Common Foods

January 23rd, 2014

How many times have you started making a recipe and realized you were out of an important ingredient? Often there is a simple substitution! Here is a list of common substitutions that may one day come in handy:

Allspice – 1 tsp = 1/2 tsp cinnamon + 1/2 tsp ground cloves + a pinch of nutmeg

Apple Pie Spice – 1 T = 2 tsp cinnamon + 1 tsp nutmeg + a pinch of ground allspice

Baking Powder – 1 tsp = 1/4 tsp baking soda + 1/4 tsp cornstarch + 1/2 tsp cream of tartar

Self-rising Flour Substitute

Self-rising Flour Substitute

Buttermilk – 1 cup = 1 T lemon juice or vinegar + enough milk to equal 1 cup. Let rest 5 minutes.

Corn Flour – 1 cup = 1 cup cornmeal ground in a blender or processor until finely textured.

Self-rising cornmeal = 1 cup = 1 cup minus 3 T cornmeal + 1 1/2 T baking powder + 1/2 tsp slt

Cream of Tartar – 1 T = 1 T distilled white vinegar or lemon juice

Creme Fraiche – 1 cup = 1 cup sour cream or yogurt

Cake Flour – 1 cup = 1 cup minus 3 T sifted all-purpose flour + 3 T cornstarch

Self-Rising Flour – 1 cup = 1 cup unsifted all-purpose flour + 1 1/2 tsp baking powder + 1/2 tsp salt

Garlic – 1 clove fresh garlic = 1/8 tsp garlic powder

Garlic Salt – 1 tsp = 1/4 tsp garlic powder + 3/4 tsp salt

Fresh Ginger – 1 T = 1/8 tsp ground ginger

Fresh Herbs – 1 T = 1 tsp dried herbs (in general, this works for most herbs)

Marshmallow Creme – 1 cup = 16 large or 160 miniature marshmallow + 2 tsp corn syrup, stirred until smooth in a double boiler or stainless-steel bowl over simmering water.

Onion Powder – 1 tsp = 1 T onion flakes

Onion Salt – 1 tsp = 1/2 tsp onion powder + 1/2 tsp salt

Paprika – 1 T = 1 T ancho chile powder

Pomegranate Molasses – 1 T = 1 1/2 tsp honey + 1 1/2 tsp lemon juice

Sour Cream – 1 cup = 1 cup plain yogurt or 1 cup creme fraiche

Sour Milk – 1 cup = 1 T lemon juice or distilled vinegar + enough milk to equal 1 cup

Buttermilk Substitute

Sour milk Substitute

Sugar, Powdered – 1 cup = 1/2 cup plus 1 1/2 T granulated sugar + 3/4 tsp cornstarch, finely ground in a small food processor

Sugar, Dark Brown – 1 cup = 1 packed cup light brown sugar + 1 T molasses; or 1 cup granulated sugar + 2 to 3 T molasses

Sugar, Decorating – 1 cup = 1 cup Homemade Colored Decorating Sugar: Put 1 cup granulated sugar in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Add 8 to 10 drops food coloring, seal, and shake immediately and vigorously until sugar is evenly colored.

Sweetened Condensed Milk – 1 14 oz can = 1 cup evaporated milk + 1 1/4 cup granulated sugar, heated until sugar dissolves

Vanilla Bean – 1 8-inch vanilla bean = 2 to 3 tsp vanilla extract or 2 to 2 1/2 tsp vanilla powder;

Vanilla Extract – 1 tsp = 3-inch piece vanilla bean

Za’atar – 1 T = Combine 2 tsp dried thyme, 3/4 tsp sumac (optional), 1/2 tsp. toasted sesame seeds, and 1/8 tsp salt in a mortar and pestle and coarsely grind.

If the substitution you are looking for is not found on this list, don’t hesitate to give us a call. We have a large substitution book in our office with many more common and uncommon substitutions.







Food Preparation, recipes

Washing Fruits and Vegetables

January 13th, 2014
Fruit Wash 1

Fresh Fruit

Did you know it is important to wash all fruits and vegetables, even if you plan on peeling them? Fruits and vegetables can pick up dust and soil as they are being harvested, handled, packed, and shipped. They may also have trace amounts of chemicals and bacteria on the outer tissues that can be removed by washing.  The following are suggestions for safe handling of fruits and vegetables:

Wash all fruits and vegetables in clean drinking water before eating. The ideal water temperature to use for most produce is between 80 and 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Wash the produce just before you plan to use it, not when you put it away. Lettuce, on the other hand, can be rinsed before refrigerating to help maintain crispness. Produce used in salads, such as lettuce, radishes, carrots, etc., should be washed in the coldest tap water available to maintain crispness. To get maximum crispness, immerse the greens in a mixture of ice cubes and water about a half-hour before serving.

The best method for washing ripe or fragile berry fruits—strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries—is by spraying with a kitchen sink sprayer. Use a colander so you can gently turn the fruit as you spray. If you do not have a sink sprayer, berries and soft fruit should be placed in a wire basket or colander into a 5 to 8 quart pot of warm water. Move the basket in and out of the water several times. Change the water until the water remains clear. Do this process quickly. If the fruit absorbs too much water, it will lose flavor, texture, and aroma.

Do not use detergent when washing fruits and vegetables. The detergent residues will be left on the fruits and vegetables. Since produce items are porous, they might also absorb the detergent. If you would like to make your own fruit and vegetable wash, follow this recipe: 1 quart water, 2 T. baking soda, 2 T. grapefruit or other acidic juice and 1 tsp cream of tartar. This mixture can be refrigerated for up to 2-3 weeks and is safe for human consumption.

There are more fruits and vegetables on the market every day. Wash them well and enjoy the goodness of the season!


Food Preparation, Food Safety

Soup Time!

January 6th, 2014
Chili made to enjoy later.

Beef Butternut Chili


This is the time of year that I crave  soup for dinner. It is especially convenient to prepare this soup in a slow cooker. Coming home from work and stepping into the house, it is wonderful to be greeted with the aroma of freshly cooked soup ready to be dished out and put on the table.

 I prepare heartier soups during the winter, usually accompanied by freshly baked bread. I bake several loaves of bread at a time, slice, package and freeze. When we need it I just thaw out as many slices as needed, toast and serve with our soup.


2013-05-19 20.05.54A small bowl of fresh, in season fruit rounds out the meal. Clean up is easy – one soup crock and a few serving dishes! We usually have enough leftover to provide for several more meals. I freeze one or two containers and eat the rest for dinner the next night.

One of my favorite soups, Beef Butternut Chili uses a small amount of beef stew, rounded out by a larger amount of vegetables; butternut squash, carrots,onions and beans. Feel free to add whatever you like or have on hand.



Food Preparation, Food Preservation, recipes

Food Safety

December 23rd, 2013


Part 1 Thanksgiving

We talk a lot about food safety at holiday time.  This graphic was developed by the Partnership for Food Safety Education and the National Turkey Federation this year just before Thanksgiving. All of the information is still very pertinent for Christmas celebrations. Actually, the section with tips for shopping applies all year long and is just as important to follow all year long. 








Thanksgiving part 2

 It is important to remember to practice safe food handling techniques while we prepare holiday meals. Often we are serving the elderly, very young, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems. These people are the most susceptible to any food borne illness.

Hand washing, refrigeration, and clean surfaces are important considerations.  We should take care not to cross contaminate surfaces—no raw fruits or vegetables on the same cutting board that held raw meat.




Thanksgiving part 3

 It is so easy to lose track of how long those leftovers have been stored in the refrigerator.  When we have company in the house it is easy for things to travel to the back of the refrigerator or to be put in places in the refrigerator that we would not typically store them. Labeling leftovers with a date they should be discarded would be a good habit for the New Year.   








Food Preparation, Food Safety, Holiday ideas