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Preparing meals for the freezer

July 24th, 2014

freezing leftover

 

 

Do you struggle with what to make for dinner?  Families today have very busy schedules and often we don’t think about what’s for dinner until it is time to eat.  With a little planning you can have wonderful home cooked meals ready to take from the freezer, put in the oven and your family can be eating a in about an hour!

 

Here are a few helpful tips for preparing meals for the freezer.

  • Pre cook meats and place it in freezer bags for quick meals like tacos or maid rites.
  • If you are making casseroles freeze them before baking, especially when all of the ingredients are cooked.
  • Undercook starchy ingredients like potatoes, rice and pasta when using them in a meal for the freezer.
  • Freeze meals in portion sizes for the number of people in your family.  If you have leftover freeze individual size meals in freezer bags for quick lunches.
  • Freeze meals in the containers you plan to cook them in.  Glass containers work well.
  • Don’t freeze meals that include items that don’t freeze well such as boiled eggs, sour cream and mayonnaise.
  • Seasoning intensity can change during freezing so season lightly.  Cloves, pepper, garlic and celery become stronger upon freezing.  Remember you can always add more seasonings when reheating.
  • Make double batches and freeze one for later use.
  • Let your family help!  Many hands will make meal preparation go more quickly.  Assign tasks to family members according to their age.  You will help develop life-long skills and talents.
  • If you are baking your casserole before freezing, cool it quickly.  Also remember that shallow baking pans speed freezing and thawing of casseroles.
  • To thaw casseroles before reheating, allow the casserole to stand in the refrigerator overnight.  Then cook as directed in the recipe.  If it is not completely thawed you may need to add 15 to 30 minutes to the cooking time.
  • Fully cooked casseroles should not be thawed, but baked at 400°F for the time according to the recipe.
  • Use frozen casseroles within three months for best quality.  Be sure and label all of your meals with the cooking directions and the date that you put it in the freezer.

Planning ahead helps you to take control of your family dinners making meal time enjoyable for everyone!

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Food Preparation, Food Safety

Canning Methods

July 14th, 2014

 

Canning JarsOne of the questions we often hear when folks are canning is: What is the difference between Hot Pack and Raw Pack? Obviously, the main difference is that one style involves totally raw food while the other method uses partially cooked food. Both styles of pack have benefits; select the best pack for the situation.

Raw Pack is often used when canning vegetables in the pressure canner. This is an easy method; clean and slice the fruit or vegetable and pack tightly into the jar. Air is often trapped between pieces of raw food and this air can be difficult to eliminate. Trapped air can cause a loss of liquid during the canning process, floating fruit, or discoloration of the food after a few months of storage.

Hot Pack foods are heated to a boil followed by simmering for about 5 minutes. Precooking shrinks the foods, allowing you to fit more food inside the jar. Air is not trapped inside the food (so fruit will not float) or between the pieces of food, which can cause loss of liquid in the jars. Also, the best quality of some foods, like pears, is obtained by using a hot pack.

No matter which pack you choose for your food, remember to always use boiling water, broth, or juice to fill the jars.

Happy canning.

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Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Food Safety

Pickling Carrots

July 10th, 2014

pickled carrotsSummer canning time is one of my favorite times of the year.  We get many calls from people learning to can or trying something new. It is fun to teach people proper canning methods. There are so many different options available to us with the recipes tested by the USDA, National Center for Home Food Preservation, Extension Resources, and the Ball Blue Books.

Pickled carrots are yet another way to serve a delicious and nutritious vegetable.  Carrots that are small, young, and tender produce a great canned product.  You may want to try pickling some of the first carrots you pull in the garden this summer.  The National Center for Home Food Preservation has this recipe available for Pickled Carrots.

Enjoy!

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Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Food Safety

Pickled Corn Relish

July 7th, 2014

pickled 3-bean saladCorn will soon be plentiful in both the farmers markets and our gardens.  We used to freeze a LOT of corn when our kids were young; now we tend to enjoy it fresh from the garden.  Sometimes it is fun to experiment with new recipes.  You may want to try this one for Pickled Corn Relish that our friends at the National Center for Home Food Preservation have included on their website. It has a nice combination of garden vegetables and a tangy flavor.  Enjoy making some this weekend.  Just remember that canning recipes are designed and tested to produce a safe product.  Do not alter the recipe in any way.

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Food Preparation, Food Preservation, recipes

Easy Rubs for Barbeque

July 3rd, 2014

 

A rub is a blend of seasonings that is ‘rubbed’ onto the surface of meat before it is cooked. Using a rub is an easy way to dress up beef steaks and burgers with all kinds of seasoning combinations. Seasoning can be fresh or dried or a mixture. Sometimes a small amount of oil is added to the seasonings to make a paste-type rub.

A rub adds flavor only; it does not help tenderize less tender beef cuts.

Simply cover the outside surface of the meat with the seasoning blend prior to grilling. Rubs can be applied just before grilling or, for convenience, a few hours in advance.  Just be certain to keep the beef refrigerated until grilling time. Flavors usually become more pronounced the longer the seasoning mixture is on the beef.

There is really no need for a recipe, as such, though we’ve included some in this information. You may use Italian seasoning, Mexican seasoning, or Cajun, as they are already mixed spices.  Experiment and try your combination. Suggestions follow below.

  • Citrus:  combine grated lemon, orange or lime      peel or a combination of these citrus flavors with minced garlic and cracked black pepper.
  • Pepper-garlic:  combine garlic powder, cracked black pepper and cayenne pepper
  • Italian:  combine fresh or dried oregano, basil and rosemary with minced Italian parsley and garlic.
  • Herb:  combine fresh or dried marjoram, thyme and basil.

 

RECIPES:

Lemon-Rosemary Rub

1 1/2 tsp. grated lemon peel                              1 tsp. rosemary leaves, crushed

1/4 tsp. salt                                                           1/4 tsp. dried thyme leaves

1/4 tsp. coarse ground black pepper                                2 large cloves garlic, crushed

Makes enough for 2 pounds beef

 

Southwestern Rub

1 1/2 tsp. chili powder                                         1 tsp. garlic powder

1/2 tsp. dried oregano leaves                             1/4 tsp. ground cumin

Shake together.  Makes enough to season 2 pounds of beef

 

Pepper-Herb Mix

2 Tbsp. dried basil leaves                                   1 Tbsp. lemon pepper

1 Tbsp. onion powder                                         1 Tbsp. dried savory leaves

1 1/2 tsp. rubbed sage

Shake to blend.   Makes 1/3 cup

 

Spicy Seasoning Mix

3 Tbsp. chili powder                                            2 tsp. ground coriander

2 tsp. ground cumin                                            1 1/2 tsp. garlic powder

3/4 tsp. dried oregano leaves                             1/2 tap. ground red pepper

Shake.  Makes 1/3 cup

 

Easy Greek-Style Rub

2 teaspoons garlic powder

2 teaspoons dried oregano leaves

½ teaspoon pepper

Combine all ingredients in small bowl.  Makes about 2 tablespoons

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Food Preparation, Holiday ideas, recipes

Safe Grilling Times and Temperatures

June 12th, 2014

It is important to use a meat thermometer to know when the meat you are cooking on the grill is done. Research conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) indicates that the color of the meat is not a reliable indicator meat or poultry has reached a temperature high enough to destroy harmful bacteria that may be present.  The following chart from the University of Minnesota Extension gives approximate cooking times for grilling.  Remember grill temperatures vary, so watch carefully and check with a meat thermometer often. The USDA recommends cooking pork, beef, veal, lamb chops, roasts, and steaks to 145°F and then letting it rest for 3 minutes before carving or eating.

Food   Type

Size

Grilling   Time

Internal   Temperature

Beef      
Steaks ¾” thick 3-4 min/side 145°F (Medium rare)
4-5 min/side 160°F (Medium)
Kabobs 1 inch cubes 3-4 min/side 160°F
Hamburger patties ½” thick 3 min/side 160°F
Rump roast (rolled-indirect heat) 4-6 pounds 18-22 min/lb 145-160°F
Sirloin Tip- indirect heat 3 ½-4 pounds 20-25 min/lb 145-160°F
Back Ribs Cut into 1 rib pieces 10 min/side 160°F
Tenderloin Half, 2-3 poundsWhole, 4-6 pounds 10-12 min/side12-15 min/side 145-160°F145-160°F
Ham
Fully cooked-indirect heat Any size 8-10 min/lb 140°F
Cook before eating-indirect Whole, 10-14 poundsHalf, 5-7 pounds 10-15 min/lb12-18 min/lb 160°F160°F
Lamb
Chops/shoulder, loin, rib 1” thick 5 min/side 145-160°F
Steaks, sirloin or leg 1” thick 5 min/side 145-160°F
Kabobs 1” cubes 4 min/side 145-160°F
Ground lamb patties 4 oz, ½” thick 3 min/side 160°F
Butterflied leg 4-7 pounds 40-50 min/total 145-160°F
Pork
Chops—any type ¾ “ thick1 ½” thick 3-4 min/side7-8 min/side 145°F145°F
Tenderloin ½ -1 ½ pounds 15-20 min/total 145°F
Ribs—indirect heat 2-4 pounds 1 ½-2 hours total 145°F
Ground Pork Patties ½” thick 4-5 min/side 145°F

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Food Preparation, Food Safety, Nutrition, recipes

CLEANING YOUR BARBECUE GRILL

June 5th, 2014

stock-photo-family-on-vacation-having-barbecue-95044429[1]

With Father’s Day fast approaching, I’ve been reminiscing about grilling in the backyard with my dad. He had an award-winning recipe for Grilled Stuffed Pork Chops and my mouth waters to this day just remembering biting into them. He was a livestock producer so we always had an abundance of fresh meat cuts to barbecue on the old Weber charcoal grill, along with fresh-picked Iowa sweet corn and my mom’s fresh garden vegetables. Such good memories!

Cleaning the grill was not such a fun memory, however. Like most people, I still don’t enjoy cleaning the grill; but a dirty grill can mean off flavors and/or excess smoke the next time you barbecue.  The following are  steps we can take to make this “dirty job” easier:

GRATES:

BEFORE lighting the grill, apply non-stick spray on the grates. This cuts down cleanup time later. The grates need to be cleaned completely after every use. Use a stiff wire brush (or if you don’t have one, crumpled up aluminum foil works for this). Most people don’t know that it’s actually better to do this AFTER you cook while the grill is still warm as cooling hardens the food on the grate.

CHARCOAL GRILLS:stock-photo-grill-138335288[1]

Many charcoal grills come with a handy ash catcher attached to the bottom. These grills still need to be cleaned after every use to help cut down on excess smoke and bad flavors. Simply brush out the ashes and cooked foods that have dropped to the bottom of the grill. Occasionally get in there and really scrape out that stuff that seems to develop on the bottom.. At least once a year, get out a bucket of soapy water and give it a really good clean and rinse.

 

 

 

timthumb[2]GAS GRILLS:

Your gas grill may have a “clean” setting on the knobs. I’m sorry to report that this is not how you clean your grill. It will burn up stuff that has fallen down into the grill, but it doesn’t really clean it. Like a charcoal grill, you need to clean your gas grill after each use by cleaning the grates and brushing off the sides and lid. Regularly lift out the cooking grate and clean off the barrier above the burners. This might be lava rock, briquettes, or some variation of metal plates, and cooked on grease and food particles should be cleaned periodically.

Once a year, do a more thorough cleaning on your gas grill. To do this, start by disconnecting the gas and then lift out the grill parts layer by layer. Once you get down to the burners, inspect them thoroughly. Make sure nothing is blocking the flow of gas. If a burner is clogged, it will give you uneven heat and make for poor grilling. If you can clean it, do so, otherwise, replace it. If your grill uses lava rocks or ceramic briquettes you need to make sure that these are not too heavily encrusted with cooked on foods. If they are, replace them to avoid bad tasting smoke that dirty rocks can produce.

Take everything out of the gas grill and clean it completely with soapy water. Heat up the grill completely before you cook again to make sure that any leftover soap residue burns off.

One more handy tip: I use rubber or plastic gloves to clean my grill – it saves fingernails and keeps soot and grime off the hands.

Taking these steps to clean your grill regularly will help ensure delicious barbecued meals time after time.  Make memories in the backyard with your friends and family and enjoy the summer grilling season – it flies by quickly!

jill sig

Cleaning, Food Preparation, Home Environment, Household Equipment

Guidelines for Safe Grilling

June 2nd, 2014

The weather is finally warming up and I am ready to get out and use the grill!  It is important to remember that food must be handled correctly both in the kitchen and on the grill.  Here are some quick reminders when using your grill to keep the food you are grilling safe.

  • Remember to keep your cold foods cold.  Bacteria grow rapidly at room temperature, so keep your meat in the refrigerator until you are ready to cook it.  If you want to marinade meat do it in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator.  If you plan to grill away from home make sure that you transport meat in a cooler with some ice. The goal is to keep meat at refrigerator temperature.
  • Do not reuse the plate that you use to take the meat out to the grill.  Juices from raw meat and poultry are high in bacteria that could contaminate the cooked meat.
  • Do not use color as an indicator of when meat is done.  Recent USDA research studies indicate that some ground beef may turn brown before it has reached a safe internal temperature of 160°F.  The only safe way to determine if food is done is to use a meat thermometer.  An instant read thermometer takes the guess work out of grilling.
  • It is not a good idea to partially cook meats.  If you must cook ahead, cook the food completely, cool it quickly in the refrigerator in shallow containers and reheat it later on the grill.

Remember these Safe Internal Minimum   Temperatures

Whole Poultry 165°F
Poultry Breasts 165°F
Ground Poultry 165°F
Ground Beef and Pork 160°F
Other Pork cuts 145°F (followed by a 3 minute rest)
Beef, veal and lamb(steaks, roasts and chops) Medium rare     145°FMedium               160°F

So get out there and enjoy your grill, knowing that you are doing all you can to keep your food safe.

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Food Preparation, Food Safety, recipes

EASY CONTAINER HERB GARDENING

May 29th, 2014

EASY CONTAINER HERB GARDENING

“Are you going to Scarborough Fair? Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme….” (Now that song will be stuck in your head all day!) I love cooking dishes at home with fresh herbs. Sometimes I go to the store to find they are sold out of the herbs I need and they also tend to be pricey. Many times you are forced to buy larger amounts of herbs than you need for a recipe and it rots in the refrigerator before you can use it for something else. So, I grow my own herbs at home. Herbs are simple to grow in containers and can add aesthetic beauty to small spaces. In addition, container gardens are excellent for advanceherbs-pots-garden-decorations-33439875d gardeners as well as beginners – even if your thumb isn’t exactly green!!

Containers can be grown where traditional gardens are not possible such as balconies, decks, small courtyards and areas with poor soil.

Tips for planting, growing and harvesting herbs in containers:

1)      Choose a container with good drainage. Plants will not grow well in water-logged soil.  Just about any container will work, just make sure it has never held toxic materials. The container should be large enough so the plants won’t dry out between waterings. The smaller the container, the more daily maintenance your plants will require.

2)      Use soil that’s free of disease organisms, insects, and weed seeds. Potting soil may contain pasteurized soil, sphagnum peat moss, vermiculite, perlite, and composted manure. Stay away from used potting soil from previous seasons, because it’s likely to contain disease organisms.

3)      Herbs that grow well in pots include: Sage, parsley, Greek oregano, rosemary, marjoram, bush basil, thyme, chives, and summer savory.   Select herbs that are small and still growing. Plants can be mixed together in a pot.

4)      Container plants require more frequent watering than in-ground plants because the exposed sides of the pots result in more evaporation.

5)      Apply water until it drips from the drainage holes. Do not over fertilize herbs. Pinch the plants during the growing season to keep them bushy and compact. Remove any dead or diseased leaves. Water plants only when the soil is dry.

6)      Check plants frequently for insects and treat appropriately.

7)      Leafy herbs need to be harvested when the leaf quality is optimal, as determined by the flower buds when they first appear. Remove top leaves and stems with a sharp knife. When harvesting annuals, leave four to six inches of shoots on the plant for better re-growth. Perennials should be harvested by removing only the top third of the plant since future harvests depend on new growth.

8)      Herbs can be used fresh or dried. Use roughly 3 times the amount of fresh herbs as dried in most recipes and vice versa.

After that long winter we had here in Iowa and many other locations around the country, it is such a pleasure to get outside and dig around in the dirt!! Enjoy those “herbalicious” herbs!

jill sig

Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Home Environment, Horticulture, Uncategorized

Thaw Meat Safely This Summer

May 26th, 2014

imageBarbeque season is here!  This season brings added concern for thawing food safely, meats in particular.  There are really only three ways to thaw meat safely:

  1.  Thaw meat in the refrigerator. Remember to allow enough time, possibly more than 24 hours, for larger pieces of meat to thaw. Set the package of meat on a plate, pan, or inside a plastic bag to prevent drippings from contaminating other food in the refrigerator. Also remember not to place the meat over food that will be consumed raw, just in case drippings find their way onto the food.
  2. Thaw meat in cool water. The water will need to be changed every 30 minutes.  The frozen food will chill the water rapidly, so refilling the sink with cool water will speed defrosting. Remember to keep the meat inside a closed plastic bag.
  3. Thaw the meat in the microwave. Choose the defrost cycle or 50% power setting.  Cook the meat immediately after defrosting.

Defrosting meat on the counter top is not considered safe.  The outer layer of the food can be exposed to the “danger zone” long enough for bacterial growth.  The “danger zone” is between 40 F and 140 F.  In this temperature zone bacteria multiply exponentially.

Play it safe this summer and defrost food safely.

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Food Preparation, Food Safety, Nutrition