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The Dos and Don’ts of Candy Making

candy making

We get many questions this time of year about making candy. I thought it might be helpful to list some dos and don’ts to help your candy making be successful.

Do

  • Choose a dry day to make your candy. Just like my grandma always said, never make candy on a humid day! Your candy will not set properly and will be sticky.
  • Use a candy thermometer to check for the correct temperature. Make sure it is immersed below the syrup but not touching the sides or the bottom.
  • Calibrate your thermometer before you use it. To do this insert it in boiling water. It should read 212 degrees F. If it reads above or below adjust the temperature accordingly when making your candy.
  • Cook to the correct stage. Use this link for a list of stages and temperatures. https://www.exploratorium.edu/cooking/candy/sugar-stages.html
  • Cook all candy in a heavy, smooth, deep and clean pan.
  • Measure all of your ingredients accurately.
  • Be careful when handling the hot mixture. Take precautions to avoid painful burns.
  • Stand back from you pan when adding additional ingredients to your hot mixtures. Many times a burst of steam will occur which could burn you.

Don’t

  • Don’t cook the sugar too fast. When it says “bring to a boil” do it slowly rather than turning your burner on high.
  • Don’t use a metal spoon to stir your candy. It will conduct the heat and get too hot to handle. A wooden spoon works well.
  • Don’t substitute ingredients. Use the ingredients listed in your recipe in the same amounts.
  • Don’t double a batch. Make separate batches if you need more than one batch will make. Changing amounts of ingredients will change the cooking time and will result in a failed product.
  • Don’t scrape the sides of your pan when pouring out the mixture. This could cause your candy to crystalize.

If you are looking for some more steps for successful candy making as well as some recipes check out this publication from the University of Illinois Extension on Candy Making. https://web.extension.illinois.edu/elrww/downloads/38877.pdf

 

Beth Marrs

I graduated form 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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New 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

DGlandingpagebanner_0The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture share a responsibility to the American public to ensure that advancements in scientific understanding about the role of nutrition in health are incorporated into the Dietary Guidelines on a regular basis. Therefore, every five years the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services releases a new set of  2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which are designed to improve the health of the U.S. population. The 2015-2020 guidelines were released January 7, 2016, and map out a clear path for people to follow to optimize health and prevent chronic disease.  What does this mean for us as consumers and educators?

There are some key takeaways from the new guidelines.

  • Eat for Health and for the Long Run

This means that a healthy eating pattern can be established for an individual’s lifetime and can help a person reach/maintain a healthy weight and can help prevent chronic diseases like obesity, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. There is more than one type of healthy eating pattern, and various examples are included in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines.

  • Focus on Variety, Nutrient Density, and Amount

To meet nutrient needs within calorie limits, choose a variety of nutrient-dense foods across and within all food groups in recommended amounts.

  • Limit Calories from Added Sugars and Saturated Fats and Reduce Sodium Intake

Consume an eating pattern low in added sugars, saturated and trans fats, and sodium. Cut back on foods and beverages higher in these components to amounts that fit within healthy eating patterns.

  • Start with Small Changes

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the idea of changing what we eat. By focusing on small improvements over time, eating healthy becomes more manageable. With so many choices to make every single day about what to eat and drink, each choice is an opportunity to make a small but healthy change. An example of this would be switching to whole grain brown rice from refined white rice.

  • Support Healthy Choices for Everyone

Everyone can play a role in encouraging easy, accessible, and affordable ways to support healthy choices at home, school, work, and in the community. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans includes examples of strategies to employ that support these healthy choices. Learn more about how you can help support healthy choices.

See the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans for more detailed information.

contributed by Jill Jensen, former AnswerLine Specialist

Beth Marrs

I graduated form 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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Making your own baby food

baby-food-224x300In less than 7 weeks we will be blessed with the arrival of our first grandchild!  Needless to say we are all very excited!!  We have been shopping for car seats, strollers and porta cribs but one of the best gifts that I plan to give my new grandson is healthy and nutritious baby food that I have prepared and frozen just for him.  Although solid foods are not introduced to babies for several months I am starting to plan what I can grow and make into tasty baby food.  When you make it yourself not only do you know that the food you are feeding your baby is nutritious but it also costs much less than buying jars at the grocery store, especially as the baby grows and starts eating more!

Here are some tips to remember when making your own baby food:

  • Make sure everything is clean. This includes washing your hands, washing the fresh fruits or vegetables (even when you are peeling them) and using clean equipment.  Babies’ immune systems are more vulnerable to bacteria so practicing safe food handling methods is especially important.
  • Use fresh fruits and vegetables or frozen ones that have no added sugar, salt, flavorings or preservatives.
  • Cook fruits and vegetables to soften them with a small amount of water unless they are already soft like bananas. Save the cooking water to use if foods are too thick when pureeing.  Use a food processor, blender or immersion blender to get the food to the correct consistency.
  • Use ice cube trays to freeze the baby food. Each cube will be approximately 1 ounce.  Once frozen empty the contents of the ice cube tray into a freezer bag.  Mark the outside of the bag the contents and the date when frozen.  When ready to use always thaw in the refrigerator not on the counter.
  • Always throw away any uneaten leftover food in the baby’s dish.

To watch a video on making baby food, use this link from Spend Smart Eat Smart.  If you are wondering when to introduce food to your baby here is some great information from WIC.

Feeding your family healthy and nutritious foods is a priority for everyone.  I can’t wait to spoil my grandson with my homemade baby food made with lots of love.

Beth Marrs

I graduated form 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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Healthier Soups

Chili made to enjoy later.January is National Soup Month and what a great time to experiment with making those soups and stews more healthy for you and your family.

Here are some great tips for healthy soups:

  • Use lean meats with lots of vegetables and beans.
  • Choose tomato-based or broth-based soups like minestrone or vegetable, instead of cream-based soups.
  • Use ingredients like cheese, sour cream, or bacon sparingly as a topping or garnish or choose healthier substitutes like reduced-fat cheeses, low-fat sour cream, non-fat plain yogurt, or lean meats.
  • Substitute a whole-grain product for a refined product – such as using whole wheat pasta, barley, brown rice, or quinoa.
  • Use low-sodium broth, stock, or soup base for the foundation to keep sodium levels lower.
  • Experiment with flavorful herbs and spices in place of salt, such as garlic, curry, cumin, dill, basil, ginger, onion, etc.

Happy Cooking and stay warm this month!  If you need healthy soup recipes to try, give us a call at AnswerLine. We are always willing and able to help!

contributed by Jill Jensen, former AnswerLine Specialist

Beth Marrs

I graduated form 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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Transporting Food Safely

 “Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go!”

My siblings and I used to sing that song on the way to my grandma and grandpa’s house, riding along in our side-paneled station wagon. Chances are, this holiday season, you may be attending a gathering where you’re bringing food.  There are steps you can take to ensure your prepared food arrives at your destination safely. to avoid the risk of food poisoning.  Getting sick does not usually result in great memories.

Remember the two hour rule: Avoid leaving perishable foods at room temperature (or car temperature in this case) for more than two hours.

Important note: Just because it is cold outside, don’t rely on trunk temperatures to be low enough for food storage.  Sunlight could warm your trunk to unsafe temperatures, resulting in unsafe food temperatures.  The same goes for garages.  Don’t use these places for refrigeration!

When transporting food, keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold at safe temperatures.

*Hot food must be kept at or above 140⁰F and should be wrapped well and placed in an insulated container, such as a cooler (Yes coolers work to keep foods not only cold, but hot as well).  I also like to wrap my hot dishes in towels for added insulation before placing them into a cooler.   IMG_0262

IMG_0265*Place cold foods in a cooler with ice or freezer packs or an insulated container with an ice pack so they remain at 40°F or lower, especially if traveling longer than 30 minutes.

 

When you arrive at your destination, place hot foods in an oven hot enough to keep the food at an internal temperature of 140°F or above. Place cold foods in a refrigerator. Use a food thermometer to assure that the food stays at a safe internal temperature. Try to serve foods soon after your arrival.

thermometer

Another option would be to transport your ingredients in a cooler, then make your dish on location.

People traveling a long distance might bring non-perishables such as breads and cookies. Those traveling about a half an hour or less can more safely bring perishables items such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products or foods containing these items. Close guests are also good candidates to provide salads, relishes and vegetables.

Keep these simple tips in mind to have a safe, happy holiday season with your family and friends!

contributed by Jill Jensen, former AnswerLine Specialist

 

Beth Marrs

I graduated form 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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Try Something New!

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!

Liz

Liz

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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STOP, don’t wash that Turkey

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.

Liz

Liz

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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Making food ahead

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.

Liz

Liz

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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Freeze some yeast rolls for Thanksgiving

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!

Liz

Liz

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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Winter Squash

winter squashI 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.

NUTRITION BENEFITS:

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!

contributed by Jill Jensen, former AnswerLine Specialist

 

Beth Marrs

I graduated form 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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