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Salt . . . Which for What?

salt 2Sea salt, table salt, kosher salt, Himalayan salt, pickling salt, fleur de sel, flavored salt, smoked salt, low-sodium salt . . .  The list of salt choices has grown far beyond the single salt shaker we once knew.  The grocery shelves are now lined with numerous possibilities.  Why so many choices?  Is one better than another?  Which should you use for what?

The answer to such questions could become an entire SALT 101 course.    Bottom line, all salts are not created equal but essentially are alike.  Salt, in any form, is a crystalline mineral made of two elements, sodium and chlorine, both essential to life.  However, in our quest to get these essential elements, we must be mindful that the American Heart Association recommends keeping our salt intake to less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day or roughly two-thirds of a teaspoon of table salt.   Most of the world’s salt is harvested from underground salt mines or by evaporating sea water or other mineral-rich waters.  It is the processing after harvest that makes the difference.

Here’s a quick “shake” on salt:

Table Salt – Table salt is available plain or fortified with iodine; iodine is important for thyroid regulation. Table salt also dissolves the quickest making it ideal for most cooking and baking.

Kosher Salt – Many chefs use kosher as it is a flatter, lighter, and flakier salt.  Because of its irregular shaped granules and subtle crunch, it is a good salt to use to flavor food as the larger grains give you less sodium per teaspoon.  Kosher salt is also commonly used to rim margaritas.

Sea Salt – The bigger granules of sea salt offer more flavor with less sodium.  However, it may not be a good choice for routine cooking or baking since it does not dissolve easily and can cause issues with the taste and texture of dishes prepared with it.  It is great for garnishing.

Low-Sodium Salt – The sodium chloride is reduced with the addition of potassium chloride, a mineral that tastes salty but is bitter when heated.  It works well as a replacement in the salt shaker at the table but should not be used by those on blood pressure medications.

Pickling Salt – Canning salt or pickling salt is pure salt and as such is more concentrated.  It contains no additives.  This is the best choice for canning, pickling, sauerkraut making, and brining meat.  A publication by Penn State University, Types of Salt and Salt Substitutes in Canning, offers some great information on using salt in food preservation.

Gourmet Salts – This group might include salts by such names as Fleur de Sel, Sel Gris, infused salt, Himalayan salt, Celtic salt, and others.  These salts tend to be more expensive and are used for various purposes in food preparation but largely they make a great finishing salt for the special flavors they may impart.

Rock Salt – Mined from deposits in the earth, rock salt is for making ice cream and deicing.  It should not be used directly on food.  Minerals and other harmless impurities can give it a grayish color.

The above is by no means a complete list of all salt possibilities but will hopefully help you navigate some of the choices available.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Too many berries? Freeze a pie!

imageMy family loves pie! My son, who lives on the east coast, firmly believes you can’t find a pie there that equals what you can find in the Midwest. With berry season here, you may want to consider making some extra pies now to freeze for later use.

If freezing an UNBAKED filled pie, add an extra 1-2 Tablespoons flour or ½ Tablespoon cornstarch to compensate for the extra moisture that will exude while baking. Do not cut vents in the top of double crust pies before freezing. Wrap, label, and freeze for up to three months. Bake unthawed pies at 425 degrees 15 minutes, reduce heat to 375 degrees, and bake an additional 25-35 minutes. For easier clean-up, bake the pie on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

BAKED and filled double-crust pies may be frozen up to 6 months. Be sure to wrap them well and label them before freezing. When ready to eat the pie, loosen the wrapping, and thaw in the refrigerator. Warm thawed pies in a 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes. Cover the edges of the crust with foil to prevent burning if necessary.

I plan to freeze some pies for the next time my son comes home!

Beth Marrs

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Adult Home Economics Education. I love to cook and entertain and spend time with my family.

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Can your green beans safely!

imageFor some people, the middle of summer is the Fourth of July weekend. For me, it is when our callers all begin to ask questions about canning green beans.  At AnswerLine, the middle of summer officially started in the first week of August.  That is when our phone lines started to get really busy and we spent most of the day talking about green beans.

The most common question callers have is: “Is it really necessary to process my green beans in a pressure canner?”  Or a variation of that call is “How many hours do I need to process my green beans in a boiling water bath canner?”

The answer, of course, is the green beans MUST be processed in a pressure canner to ensure that the botulism bacteria are inactivated. There is NO safe time that low acid foods like beans can be processed in a boiling water bath canner.

Even though the occurrence of those bacteria your green beans is rare, the consequences are quite severe.  Botulism poisoning can cause death or very severe illness that can have a long recovery time.  I think we can all agree that it is more important to protect our family members than to save a little time or money taking a short cut.

If you don’t own a pressure canner, consider freezing the beans, borrowing a canner, or purchasing one on sale at the end of the canning sale.

Also, remember to always use current, safe, tested canning recipes and procedures. Always make altitude adjustments if you live at an altitude over 1000’.

Follow those rules to preserve safe food for your family. Remember if you have any questions you can always call us at AnswerLine.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Harvesting and Ripening Pears

Pear season is coming.  It typically starts early in August for early maturing varieties and continues into the fall for later maturing varieties.  Therefore, it is time to begin checking your trees for fruit maturity and harvest before the pears are fully ripe for later enjoyment.  While most types of fruit reach their peak on the branch or vine, the classic European* pears are an exception and need to be picked before ripening.  Most varieties ripen from the inside out; if left on the tree to ripen, they will become brown at the core and mushy in the middle.  Further, pears have a grainy texture caused by cells in the fruit called stone cells.  Picking pears before they have matured, and holding them under cool conditions, prevents the formation of the stone cells and resulting gritty pear.

To avoid such results, pears must be picked when they are mature but not yet fully ripened.  Unfortunately, there isn’t a pat answer to knowing when pears are ready for picking.  Due to firmness and variations in color, neither touch or sight are good indicators of maturity.  Here are some tips to help determine whether pears a20160724_104315re mature and ready for picking:

  • Tree attachment:  Pears are best picked when the fruit separates easily from the twigs.  Take the fruit in your hand and tilt it horizontally.  The mature fruit will easily come away from the branch at this angle (as opposed to its natural vertical hanging position).  If it holds on to the branch, it isn’t ready.
  • Flesh texture:  A mature pear should have a feeling of springiness to its flesh and give slightly when gently squeezed in the hand.  If it feels rock hard, it’s not ready.
  • Drops: Healthy pears begin to drop as they reach maturity.  If you see fruit on the ground, it is a sure sign that it is time to check the fruit on the tree.

Once harvested, most pears will require about a week to ripen at room temperature (64-72F).  This will result in optimum quality and smoothness of flesh.  If you store the fruit in a paper bag, you can speed up the ripening process.  Adding an apple or a banana to the bag will also speed ripening as these fruits release ethylene gas, a ripening accelerant.  If you want to keep pears for a longer period of time, store the freshly picked fruit in the refrigerator; they will keep for many weeks.

Ripened pears can be used in a variety of ways—fresh eating, baking, canning, freezing, preserving.  If canning, freezing, or preserving pears, check for recipes and guidelines at the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

*Asian pears, unlike European pears, should be allowed to ripen on the tree and need no ripening time. Asian pears are ready for harvest when they come away easily from the branch when lifted and twisted slightly and the green skin color starts to change to yellow. Asian pears should be crisp and crunchy when eaten.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Go ‘Bananas’ for Summer Treats

July is National Ice Cream month and even has its own day on July 17th in 2016! Ice cream as we know it is made from dairy products, sweeteners, gelatin, flavorings, fruits and other ingredients. America loves ice cream. In fact, the average American consumes nearly 22 pounds of this delectable dessert per year (IDFA.com).

But look out ice cream, there’s a new ‘one ingredient ice-cream’ in town and it’s taking the internet and media by storm! It’s low in fat, cholesterol, and sodium, and is a great source of dietary fiber, potassium, and manganese. Further, it’s perfect for those looking for a guilt-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, nut-free, soy-free, egg-free, or vegan treat with no added sugar. What is it?

If you guessed BANANAS, you are right!! Thanks to banana’s high pectin content and a bit of kitchen wizardry, bananas make a wonderful soft-serve treat. And because it’s a simple, make-it-yourself treat, you can personalize it with additions of other fruits, nut butters, chocolate chips, nuts, cocoa, spices, or any other add-in desired. Or, bananas can be the only ingredient.

Besides bananas (and any other fruit or add-in desired), you will need a high-powered processor to pulverize the fruit. There are designated frozen dessert soft-serve processors on the market which work very well such as the Yonanas, Big Boss, and Dessert Bullet. However, a blender or food processor will usually work equally as well as long as it is powerful enough to pulverize frozen bananas.

So how do you make this magical treat? It starts with the bananas. Always use bananas that are ‘cheetah spotted’ or over ripe. 20160531_223140These bananas are the sweetest and have developed their pectin potential. 20160531_223509

 

Peel the bananas and cut into ¼-inch coins if using a food processor or blender; if a designated dessert processor is used, follow the manufactures directions.20160531_223744

Place the banana pieces in an airtight freezer bag and freeze for at least 2 hours before using; 24 hours is best. Do the same with other fruits you intend to use with your bananas. Remove bananas and other fruit from the freezer and let thaw for 10-15 minutes before making your treat.

One large banana will make two servings especially if additional fruit is used. The ratio of banana to other fruit is about one banana to 3/8 cup fruit. You can make a bigger batch as long as the food processor or blender is big enough and powerful enough. If using a designated dessert processor, follow the manufacturers’ directions for preparing your soft-serve treat by feeding the fruit through the tube into the pulverizing part of the machine.

20160609_203407If using a blender or food processor, follow these instructions: place the frozen banana pieces (and other frozen fruit , if using) in the blender or food processor and pulse. At first the banana pieces will look crumbled, then mushy and gooey something like oatmeal, and suddenly they will magically become smooth and creamy. You will have to stop occasionally and scrape down the sides and help move the fruit into the blades. After the magic happens, continue to blend for a few more seconds to add a little air and blend in any nut butters, cocoa, flavorings or spices desired. 

20160609_204819The banana soft-serve is now ready to eat. Stir in any additional whole or chopped add-ins or top off as desired. OR, put it in an airtight container and freeze until solid or for later use.

Recipe ideas are endless. To get started, check out Banana “Ice Cream”, Chocolate Banana Ice Cream, and the Yonanas recipe website and let your imagination go. Enjoy your ______-free treat!

 

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Too many berries? Freeze a pie!

imageMy family loves pie! My son, who lives on the east coast, firmly believes you can’t find a pie there that equals what you can find in the Midwest. With berry season here, you may want to consider making some extra pies now to freeze for later use.

If freezing an UNBAKED filled pie, add an extra 1-2 Tablespoons flour or ½ Tablespoon cornstarch to compensate for the extra moisture that will exude while baking. Do not cut vents in the top of double crust pies before freezing. Wrap, label, and freeze for up to three months. Bake unthawed pies at 425 degrees 15 minutes, reduce heat to 375 degrees, and bake an additional 25-35 minutes. For easier clean-up, bake the pie on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

BAKED and filled double-crust pies may be frozen up to 6 months. Be sure to wrap them well and label them before freezing. When ready to eat the pie, loosen the wrapping, and thaw in the refrigerator. Warm thawed pies in a 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes. Cover the edges of the crust with foil to prevent burning if necessary.

I plan to freeze some pies for my son for the next time he comes home!image

Marcia Steed

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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Am I saving money by canning my own food?

Home food preservation has been pretty popular during the time that I’ve been working at AnswerLine.  We certainly get lots of calls about it; but one question is rarely asked. I think BWB1callers assume that they are saving lots of money by preserving food at home.  If you are canning or freezing food only because you think you are saving lots of money, you may want to take a deeper look.

There really are many reasons to preserve your own food.  Gardeners really enjoy tasting produce from their gardens year round.  Some people with health issues are happy to spend time and energy ensuring that the food they have is free from added salt or sugar.  Some people are committed to the idea of local foods, and some people really just enjoy the process of canning or freezing food.

Both of the common forms of food preservation, canning or freezing can provide a lot of entertainment.  However, if you are only interested in the financial aspect of the process then we should consider all the “hidden” costs of preserving your food at home.

You will need to consider:

  1. The cost of buying the freezer and maintaining it
  2. Electricity to run the freezer
  3. Material costs for freezer containers or freezer bags
  4. Ingredients such as water, fruit juice, sugar, anti-darkening solutions
  5. You may also want to consider your time, unless it is a hobby that you truly enjoy
  6. The cost of a canner
  7. The cost of the jars, rings, flats
  8. Electricity or gas for you stove
  9. Canning tools, such as funnels and jar lifters
  10. Repair to the canner, including gasket replacement or gauge testing
  11. The actual cost of the produce you are preserving–either seeds or purchase price
  12. The cost of your recipe books for safe, tested recipes

If you add up all the costs and compare them with the cost of food purchased at the grocery store, you may find you are not saving much money after all.  If you want to calculate the cost of freezing food, Colorado State University has a handy chart to help you calculate.

I’ve always enjoyed the process and using my home preserved foods.  I’ve never really worried about saving money; we just enjoy the food.  Happy canning!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Salad tips plus a dressing recipe

saladSummertime is Salad Time! Here are some tips for making a delicious salad:

First, buy the freshest greens you can find and buy a variety to add interesting tastes and textures. Farmers Markets are a great source for greens this time of year.

Store your salad greens correctly. Remove any excess water from the greens when you bring them home. Head lettuces can be shaken out, wrapped in paper towel, and stored in a plastic bag. Loose greens can be put through a salad spinner or wrapped in a kitchen towel and shaken. Storing all greens in a plastic bag with a paper towel in the crisper keeps them fresh longer.

Make homemade dressing if possible. Many take five minutes or less to make and do not contain preservatives. Spend Smart. Eat Smart. has a wonderful video and some dressing recipes.

Use your hands to toss the salad to prevent bruising and crushing tender greens.

Toss vegetables separately and place on top of tossed greens. This prevents them from ending up on the bottom of the salad bowl where they may or may not get coated with dressing very well.

If you prepare your favorite protein to add to the salad you have a quick and easy Summertime meal!

 

Marcia Steed

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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Experiment with White whole wheat flour!

white whole wheat flourAre you looking to increase the servings of whole grains in your diet but don’t enjoy the strong flavor that comes with whole wheat flour? You may want to try white whole wheat flour. It is milled from 100% hard white wheat and has the same nutritional value as traditional whole wheat but is lighter in color and flavor. It has a softer feel and sweeter taste. Because of its milder taste it is often called “sweet wheat” by the farmers who grow it. What white whole wheat is missing is the pigment that makes the outer layer of bran the traditional reddish color. That pigment contains an acid which is associated with the stronger, astringent taste of whole wheat.

How do you bake with white whole wheat flour? For best results substitute 100% in recipes calling for whole wheat flour; 50% in any recipe calling for all-purpose flour; and 25% in light-colored baked goods like cake and bread.

Whole grains are a great source of antioxidents, vitamin B, magnesium, iron and fiber. You might want to buy a bag and store it in your freezer and experiment! I experimented with some cookies this week and everyone in the office is enjoying them!S'mores cookies

 

Marcia Steed

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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Make your own Biscuit Mix or Master Mix

sourdough starter pictureWe sometimes get calls this time of the year from people who want to make their own baking mix.  It is readily available at the store, but much more economical to make it yourself.  Just remember to use clean surfaces and measure carefully.  These mixes are great for a camping vacation or a weekend at the cabin.

 

 

 

BISCUIT MIX

This baking mix contains less sodium than the commercial kind.             Yield:  15 cups

10 cups flour

1 2/3 cups nonfat dry milk powder

1/3 cup baking powder

2 1/2 teaspoons salt (optional)

1 2/3 cups vegetable shortening

In a 6 to 8 quart container thoroughly mix the flour, dry milk, baking powder, and salt. Using a pastry blender, cut in shortening until well mixed.  Store tightly covered in a cool dry place and use within 3 months.  Stir lightly before measuring.

Recipe from  Homemade Convenience Foods Made with Nonfat Dry Milk, Pm-1183 March 1985.

 

MASTER MIX                                                                                     Yields 13 cups.

9 cups sifted flour

1/3 cup baking powder

4 teaspoons salt

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons instant nonfat milk crystals

1 3/4 cups vegetable shortening

Stir baking powder, dry milk and salt into sifted flour. Sift all dry ingredients together until well mixed.

Cut fat into flour mixture until all particles of fat are thoroughly coated and mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Store in tightly covered container.  Mix will keep for 6 weeks in refrigerator.

 

To make Muffins use 3 cups master mix

1 egg or 2 1/2 tablespoons dried egg mix plus 1 tablespoon warm water

1 cup milk or water

2 tablespoons sugar

To make Pancakes use 2 cups master mix

1 egg or 2 1/2 tablespoons dried egg mix plus 1 tablespoon warm water

1 teaspoon sugar

butter or margarine for the skillet

Recipe from the USDA

Remember to store either mix in an airtight container.  It should be kept in a cool, dark place.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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