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All About Apples

June 25th, 2015

 

Even though it is not officially apple season I have been finding great prices on apples at the grocery store.  Since apples vary in taste and texture some are better for eating, some for making applesauce and some for baking in pies.  Here are some varieties that are available locally and how they are best used courtesy of the Washington Apple Commission.

Usage Chart

apple chart

 

Here are some apples facts that will help you in determining how many apples you will need to purchase.

  • 3 medium sized apples equal approximately 1 pound
  • Pared and sliced, 1 pound apples yields 2 3/4 cups
  • A peck of apples weighs 10.5 pounds
  • A bushel of apples weighs 42 pounds
  • A bushel of apples will yield 15 – 20 quarts of applesauce

So take advantage of these great prices and enjoy some apples today!

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Food Preparation, Food Preservation

Make your own flavored vinegar

June 22nd, 2015

With the popularity of cooking shows, cooks are looking for more exotic ingredients.  One such item is flavored vinegar.  Flavored vinegar is really easy to make as long as you follow the recipe carefully to ensure a safe product.

Glass jars or bottles are best for home flavored vinegar.  Be sure to check for cracks or nicks in the bottle.  Choose bottles that can be easily sealed with a cork or a screw top.  Wash the jars thoroughly with hot soapy water.  Next, sterilize the bottles by boiling for 10 minutes.  More complete directions are available from the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Choose flavoring herbs that you can pick just before you want to make the vinegar.  Choose sprigs that have not yet blossomed for the best flavor.  Pick them early in the day—just after the morning dew has dried. Use only the best, freshest looking leaves.  Discard stems, browned, or blemished leaves. Allow 3-4 sprigs per pint (2 cups) of vinegar.  Wash and dry the herbs before dipping them in a sanitizing solution.  Use 6 cups of water and 1 teaspoon of household bleach to make the sanitizing solution.  Rinse the herbs after dipping and blot dry again.  You can also use dried herbs to make flavored vinegar.  If you want to use dry herbs, use 3 tablespoons per pint of vinegar.

Choose white vinegar if you want to use very mild tasting herbs.  Apple cider vinegar is less harsh tasting but has an amber color that may not be appealing.  You can also choose champagne vinegar for mild flavored herbs but it will be a more expensive choice.  Red wine vinegar will work best with strong flavored herbs like rosemary but would overpower the flavor of a delicate herb.

Prepare to flavor your vinegar by placing the herbs in the sterilized jars.  Avoid overfilling the jar; use only 3-4 sprigs or 3 tablespoons of herbs per every 2 cups of vinegar.  If the herb you choose has large, broad leaves, you may want to coarsely chop them or bruise the leaves.  Heat the vinegar to just below the boiling point.  Then pour over the flavoring herbs.  Fill the jars to within 1/4 of an inch from the top.  Screw on the lids and let the jars cool, undisturbed.  Store them in a cool, dark place for at least 3-4 weeks to allow flavor to develop.

You will want to check the flavor after a month. Test your vinegar by putting a few drops on a slice of white bread.  If the flavor has developed enough for you, strain the vinegar, following directions listed below. If the flavor seems too strong, dilute your flavored vinegar with more of the base vinegar you used previously. 

You can strain the vinegar with cheesecloth or a damp coffee filter.  You may want to strain the vinegar several times to remove any cloudiness.

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Food Preparation, Food Preservation, recipes

Grill Gifts for Fathers Day

June 15th, 2015

grilling utensils (2)It’s father’s day and if your father or husband is a griller what better gift for him than accessories for the grill!  We have assembled our top ten list to make your dad feel special on this day and all summer long!

  • A new grill brush will make cleaning the grates easier. Make sure it has a long handle since the grates clean more easily when they are warm. Many also have a scraping or curved blade that helps to clean the individual grates.
  • If you like to cook vegetables on the grill a roasting tray or basket makes it easy to do. Usually they have sides so that the vegetables can be stirred to ensure even cooking.
  • An instant read thermometer is a must. This allows the griller to know when food has reached a safe temperature. This also helps to avoid overcooking which decreases the quality of the food.
  • A new basting brush is another great grill tool. Many are now made of heat resistant materials and are dish washer safe.
  • Grill covers not only keep your grill clean but many now are available with logos of your favorite team on them! Also available are mats that go under your grill. These help to keep any grease that could drip from the grill, from staining your deck.
  • If your father uses a charcoal grill and doesn’t have a Chimney Starter it would make a perfect gift! It allows you to stack the charcoal in the canister and light some newspaper underneath. In no time at all the charcoal will be hot, ashed over and ready to use. With this there is no need for lighter fluid.
  • If your dad likes to cook ground beef patties a burger press is a must. It makes the perfectly shaped patty that will hold together when cooking. Most are bun sized so you are assured that your burger will fit in your bun.
  • New spatula, tongs and forks are grilling necessities. Make sure that they have long handles to reach to the back of the grill and if you find some that are dishwasher safe, it will make clean up a breeze.
  • A grilling cookbook is also a wonderful gift. Many times they have pictures that show the finished product which helps to determine if you want to try the recipe! Many also give vegetables, fruits and even dessert recipes.
  • Another fun idea is to put together a basket with a variety of rubs and sauces. Or find a recipe and make your own rubs with spice combinations.

Giving any of these grilling gifts will bring a smile to your dad’s face.  Hopefully he will invite you to join him for dinner as he tries them out!

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Food Preparation, Food Safety, Holiday ideas

Inappropriate Exhibits for County Fairs

June 8th, 2015

County fair season is just around the corner and soon we will be getting lots of questions at AnswerLine about the safety of food projects for the fair. This can be a confusing subject for 4-H members, their parents, and even some judges. On the surface, the rules may seem to be rather random. However, if you can understand what the rules are based on, then it is a bit easier to understand why the rules are necessary.

The first and most important reason for not allowing a food item to be entered at a fair is to prevent judges from sampling foods that are not safe and could potentially make them sick. Many foods are perfectly safe to take from the oven or stove and eat at a family meal. However, when the food has cooled and not been refrigerated, bacteria may grow in the food that could make someone sick. This is the reason behind not allowing meats, foods that must be stored in the refrigerator, uncooked eggs, and cream cheese frostings with smaller than a 2:1 ratio of sugar to cream cheese.

Other inappropriate foods are those containing alcohol (as no 4-H members are old enough to consume alcohol), or breads with chopped and dehydrated vegetables, meats, or layers of cheese. These last foods have the potential to be a botulism risk.

Since 4-H is a part Iowa State University Extension and Outreach; the information presented must be accurate and safe. All home food preservation exhibits must follow safe, tested recipes and procedures. Canning jars must be labeled with the food item, date preserved, method of preservation, and source of recipe. Recipes must be those that are from current, accepted resources. Those resources include: The USDA canning guide, The National Center for Home Food Preservation, Extension and Outreach recipes, and the Ball Blue Books (post 2009). Recipes that have been handed down in the family may also meet those criteria—as long as the family recipe is identical in /procedure/processing time. 4-H members must also remember to adjust processing time on canning recipes if the member lives in a county that has an altitude above 1000 feet.

Another problem area is foods that are prepared in unusual containers. Food grade containers must be used for baking; no baking in flower pots. Breads baked and sealed in jars are also considered unsafe. These products can be botulism risks because of the low acid and lack of oxygen in the jars with bread. Great conditions for the botulism bacteria to thrive. Canning jars are not designed for the dry heat of an oven and could shatter while cakes/breads are being baked. Paper bags are not considered safe as there may be chemicals in the ink or glue that could contaminate food.

There is a way that many of the inappropriate exhibits could be exhibited at the fair. Many of these foods can be made at home and photographed. The member can evaluate the product and write a detailed report with the goals, learning, and procedure. This would allow an inappropriate product to be judged and exhibited at the fair. This method allows a wide range of projects such as: learning to make the evening meal for the family, custard pie baking, freezing vegetables or fruits to preserve them, or making breads with vegetables or layers of cheese inside the bread. Another alternative is to practice making breads with vegetables or cheese in it at home but being sure that the bread baked to exhibit at the fair does not include those unsafe ingredients. These methods will not work for all inappropriate foods. Baking in nonfood safe containers or canning jars would remain inappropriate.

Remember that you can always call us at AnswerLine and we will be happy to help you know if the project is appropriate to exhibit at the fair.

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Food Preparation, Food Safety

Healthy Grab and Go Breakfast

May 25th, 2015

Breakfast burrito Week days can be so hectic in the morning.  Sometimes I think I’m the only one who is so rushed that it is hard to get everything done before heading out the door.  This morning while waiting for a train, I looked at the car behind me and noticed the man in the car was eating and drinking.  I had just finished my own breakfast in the car.  This made me think that if breakfast in the car is a going to happen often for me, then I should find some healthy options.

The Spend Smart. Eat Smart website has so many healthy and easy recipes. I can search for some easy grab and go breakfast food.  My daughter keeps her freezer stocked with breakfast burritosBanana bread is easy to make and very portable. I can also find a healthy granola bar for breakfast if I take some time to read nutrition labels the next time I’m at the grocery store.

Another fast breakfast food is fresh fruit.  Bananas and apples are especially easy to transport and eat in the car.  I can toast some whole grain bread and spread some peanut butter on  it for a quick meal. There are so many options open to me if I just take some time to plan ahead.  You can bet that I will be doing that on my next trip to the grocery store.

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Food Preparation, Food Safety, Nutrition

Home Food Preservation Courses

May 21st, 2015

Preserve the taste of summer2There’s nothing better than fresh-picked produce right out of the garden.  Many times we grow more than our families can eat at harvest time and we preserve that extra food to enjoy when the weather turns cold.  During the summer months here at AnswerLine we typically receive hundreds of calls with questions about home canning and other methods of food preservation. Some of the more common calls include questions about what can or cannot be safely canned in a hot water bath canner vs. a pressure canner. We recommend using only recipes that have been tested for safety by a trusted source such as the University of Georgia’s National Center for Home Food Preservation or the USDA.

Call or email the staff here at AnswerLine if you need advice or tested recipes. We can mail or email the information or read it over the phone if you need it immediately.

If you’re interested in learning more about home food preservation, there are courses available for both home and professional preservers in each of the three states covered by AnswerLine. Some of the courses are hands-on workshops taught by certified professionals and some courses are online that you can take right in the comfort of your own home.

For information and registration information about these courses, click on the link below for the state you reside in:

Iowa: http://www.extension.iastate.edu/humansciences/preserve-taste-summer

Minnesota: http://www.extension.umn.edu/food/food-safety/courses/home-food-safety/

South Dakota:  http://igrow.org/healthy-families/food-safety/home-food-preservation-self-study-course/image

 

Here at AnswerLine we provide a valuable service to residents of Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota with toll free hotline numbers as well as residents of other states who wish to call our non-toll-free number.  It’s not too early to start gathering the information you need for the canning, freezing, and drying season and the staff here is ready and willing to assist you.

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Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Food Safety, Horticulture, Nutrition

Power Outage and Food Safety

May 18th, 2015

imageWe receive many calls during the spring and summer regarding power outages and freezer and refrigerator food safety. The callers may have experienced extreme weather conditions such as a severe storm or flooding, or other reasons.

What foods can you keep and what needs to be tossed?  That depends. If your freezer is full, your frozen food can remain safe for three days, but if it is on the emptier side and the temperatures are warm, it may not last as long.  Here are some guidelines for what to keep and what to dispose of and what steps to take in this situation:

Refrigerator:

  • Without power, refrigerators keep food cool for four to six hours.
  • Place block of ice in a container in the refrigerator to keep food cooler.
  • Do NOT open the refrigerator.

Freezer:

  • If power is interrupted, do NOT open the freezer unnecessarily.
  • If the freezer is full and you keep the door closed, the food will stay frozen about two-three days.  If the freezer is not full, group packages together so they stay cold longer.
  • If you anticipate the power going off, turn the freezer control to the lowest temperature setting. If you have several days without power, act quickly. Get dry ice and put it in the freezer before the food starts to thaw.  For a 20-cubic-feet, full freezer, 50 pounds of dry ice keeps food frozen for four days.  To use dry ice, place cardboard on top of the food.  Put the dry ice on top of the cardboard.  Handle it with gloves and have the room well ventilated.  Caution: be certain of good ventilation in the room. Carbon dioxide gas can accumulate and cause loss of consciousness/asphyxiation.
  • If power will be out more than a few days, transfer foods as quickly as possible to another freezer or a commercial locker.
  • Do not put food out on the snow-the sun may cause warming.

After Power is Restored:

  • Check food temperatures. If food is above 40 degrees, you need to determine how long it was at 40 degrees. If food items were above 40 degrees longer than two hours, throw away the food.
  • For frozen foods, look for ice crystals and check temperature.
  • Throw away perishables such as meat and poultry leftovers.

Do Not Refreeze:

  • Food that has thawed completely and is less than 40 degrees, especially meat, poultry and seafood.
  • Prepared, cooked foods such as pizza, hot dishes, stews and soups.
  • Foods with off colors or odors.
  • Creamed foods, pudding or other low-acid foods that have thawed.

Safe to Refreeze:

  • Foods that still contain ice crystals.
  • Bread, cake, cookies, doughnuts.
  • Nuts, flour, cereal.
  • Raw meat and poultry that is 40 degrees or less.
  • Cheese, butter.

For more information, call us here at AnswerLine and our staff will be happy to assist you.

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Resources:

http://www.extension.umn.edu/food/food-safety/preserving/safe-meals/power-outages/

http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/flood/home/safe-handling-of-food-and-utensils-after-a-disaster

http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/disaster/documents/handling_food_through_flood_000.pdf

http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/flood/home/safety-of-frozen-foods-after-a-power-failure/

http://www.extension.umn.edu/food/food-safety/preserving/safe-meals/preparing-food-without-power/

http://www.extension.umn.edu/food/food-safety/preserving/storage/cold-storage-times/

Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Food Safety, Home Environment, 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

Rhubarb!!

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

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.

Enjoy!

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Food Preparation, Food Safety, Holiday ideas