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Successful Pie Baking

December 18th, 2014

imageIf you are in charge of making pies during the holidays you know that the crust can make or break your dessert.  With so many recipes to choose from here is a list of what each of the ingredients in your pie dough is and how it functions.

  • Use all-purpose flour or pastry flour for best results. Wheat flour can be used but it produces heavy dough that doesn’t roll out well. It works better when combined with all-purpose flour.
  • Fat adds tenderness to crusts. Shortening and lard produce a flakier, tenderer crust. Butter in a crust recipe may cause it to be less tender and flaky but it will have a rich, buttery smell and taste. Oil will produce a crust that is crumbly rather than flaky. Make sure that the fat is cold and mix it quickly since over mixing can result in an oily crust. If you are mixing more than one type of fat combine them, then chill before mixing with the other ingredients.
  • A liquid is necessary to develop the gluten in the flour. It also helps to leaven the dough since the liquid is turned to steam during baking. If you add too much liquid your crust will be tough so add the smallest amount listed on your recipe, and then add more if needed. Using ice cold liquids will keep the fat from melting, making the crust flakier. Milk can be used but the baked crust will be less crisp.
  • Sometimes lemon juice, vinegar or sour cream is added to the dough. The acidity helps to relax the dough and tenderize the crust.
  • Salt is added mostly for flavor.

Understanding the function of the ingredients will make pie baking easier and more successful!

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Food Preparation, Holiday ideas, recipes

Roll Out Sugar Cookies

December 8th, 2014

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Making and decorating roll out sugar cookies is a fun family activity at our house.  We challenge each other to see who comes up with the most creative decorating ideas and we get to sample any of the cookies that break while frosting them!

Rolled cookies are usually fairly thin and crispy so the dough should be rolled to about 1/8 inch thick.  The thinner they are rolled out the crispier and more fragile they will be.  If you would like them softer simply leave them thicker and under bake them slightly by taking them out of the oven when they are still a little soft.

Your task will be much more successful if you chill the dough for at least 30 minutes prior to rolling out.  When it is chilled simply take out enough dough for one rolling.  Leave the rest in the refrigerator to stay cold.  The work surface should be slightly floured.  The more flour that is incorporated into the dough the tougher the cookie will be.  If the dough becomes too soft to roll easily simply put it into the refrigerator again.

If you have problems transferring the cookies to the cookie sheets try rolling the dough out on a cooled cookie sheet and pull the excess dough away from the cut out cookies.

Start you own family traditions by decorating cookies for any holiday together.  These will be memories that will last a lifetime!

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Food Preparation, Holiday ideas

Steps to Safely Fry a Turkey

November 24th, 2014

Have you ever thought about deep frying a turkey? It gives you very tender meat with a nice crispy texture, but in order to keep yourself and your food safe you need to follow some precautions.

  • Completely thaw your turkey or use a fresh turkey. Be sure to remove the neck and giblets bag before cooking.
  • Make sure that your surface where you are frying is flat and in a safe outdoor location that is far away from garages, decks and house siding.
  • Do NOT stuff your turkey.
  • Use a turkey that weighs 12 pounds or less.
  • Make sure your frying pot is large enough for your turkey to be covered by 1 to 2 inches of oil and that there is at least 3-5 inches space between the oil and the top of the pot, so the oil does not boil over the sides.
  • Heat the oil to 350° F. After it has reached this temperature slowly lower the turkey into the hot oil. Constantly monitor the temperature of the oil and never leave it unattended.
  • It will take approximately 3 to 5 minutes per pound for the turkey to cook.
  • Use a meat thermometer to see if the turkey has reached a minimum internal temperature of 165° F. in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.
  • If it has not reached that temperature return the turkey immediately to the oil to finish cooking.
  • When the turkey is finished cooking remove from the oil and place on a sturdy tray lined with paper towels to absorb the excess oil.
  • Let rest for 20 minutes before carving.
  • Be sure that the heat is turned off and the pot is put in a spot where nothing will disturb it.

By following these precautions your guests will enjoy a juicy turkey and you will have a safe Thanksgiving!

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Food Preparation, Food Safety, Holiday ideas, Household Equipment

Time to Thaw the Turkey!

November 20th, 2014

 

If you have not done so already, it is probably time to start thinking about thawing your turkey. There are three different ways to thaw your turkey, four if you count cooking it from the frozen state.

The first method is thawing the turkey in the refrigerator. This is perhaps the easiest method.  It is best to put the turkey on the lowest shelf of the refrigerator in a pan or cookie sheet.  This will turkey thawprevent drippings from the thawing bird contaminating other foods; especially ready to eat foods like fruits and vegetables.  Expect the turkey to thaw at a rate of 5 pounds for every 24 hours.  Plan to have the turkey thawed for no more than 2 days before cooking.  If you find your turkey thawing much faster than expected, you can refreeze overnight then continue thawing.  We never advise just setting the bird on a counter top for thawing.

Refrigerator Thawing Times

  • 4 to 12 pounds — 1 to 3 days
  • 12 to 16 pounds — 3 to 4 days
  • 16 to 20 pounds — 4 to 5 days
  • 20 to 24 pounds —5 to 6 days

If you suddenly realize you were supposed to begin thawing the turkey several days ago and find yourself running out of time to thaw it, use the cold water thawing method. For this method, you will need to allow 30 minutes per pound of turkey. Be sure the turkey is in a leak-proof plastic bag; this keeps the turkey from absorbing water.  Place the turkey in a sink full of cold water.  Change the turkey thaw2water every half hour—the water will get very cold—until the turkey is thawed.

Cold Water Thawing Times

  • 4 to 12 pounds — 2 to 6 hours
  • 12 to 16 pounds — 6 to 8 hours
  • 16 to 20 pounds — 8 to 10 hours
  • 20 to 24 pounds — 10 to 12 hours

Not enough time for the cold water method? Try defrosting in your microwave. Follow the directions that came with your microwave.  Plan to cook it immediately as the turkey may have developed hot spots while defrosting.

Call us at AnswerLine if you have further questions about getting that turkey thawed.

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Food Preparation, Food Safety, Holiday ideas

Pumpkin Pie–Do I Need to Refrigerate It or Not?

November 17th, 2014

 

Pumpkin pie ready for bakingOne of the questions we are asked a lot before Thanksgiving is “Do I need to refrigerate my pumpkin pie or not?” Probably the main reason for the confusion is seeing all the pumpkin pies at the grocery store just sitting on the shelves—stored at room temperature.  The main difference between the grocery store bakery pies and the ones that you make at home is the ingredients.  Those bakery pies are made with shelf-stable ingredients which can include preservatives and anti-microbials that won’t allow the growth of bacteria. If you read the label on the pie you may see a notation of RT; indicating the pie can be stored at room temperature. Leftover pieces of these pies should be stored in the refrigerator.  Remember to use the pie within 2-3 days.  If you need to store it for a longer time, consider freezing the pie.

When you make your own pie from scratch, you should refrigerate it as soon as it has had a chance to cool. Homemade pies have ingredients like milk and eggs which provide a great medium for bacterial growth. If you prefer a warm piece of pie, you can always warm the pie just prior to serving.

Enjoy!

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Food Preparation, Food Safety, Holiday ideas

Make or can your own cranberry sauce

November 6th, 2014

 

Cranberry sauce2Thanksgiving without cranberry sauce is hard to imagine for some people. If you are feeling adventurous this year you may want to try something new. The cranberry is a very versatile fruit and in season now.

When you are shopping for cranberries, choose full, firm berries that are dark red or red and yellow in color. Cranberries that are soft, shriveled, and have dark spots should be avoided. Store them in the refrigerator when you bring them home from the store. The crisper drawer will help you keep them fresh for 3-4 weeks. You can also freeze the berries until you are ready to use them.  Wash the berries just prior to cooking. Discard any shriveled or damaged berries. Cranberries can be eaten raw or cooked. You can also add them to breads and muffins. Plan to stock up now while they are available.

Remember, you can change up a waldorf salad or any other fruit salad with the addition of cranberries.If you want to make your own fresh cranberry sauce this year, follow this recipe from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service.

For sweet cranberry sauce, use two cups cranberries to one cup sugar and one-half cup water. After the cranberries have been sorted and washed, put all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring frequently to dissolve sugar crystals completely. Boil gently for about 10 minutes, or until skins crack. Remove from heat and skim foam. Sauce may either be served hot or allowed to cool before serving.

You also have the option to preserve cranberry sauce  to enjoy throughout the year. The National Center for Home Food Preservation has a recipe  for cranberry  sauce. Cranberry Jam is another fun and  easy project.

You have so many options to use and enjoy cranberries this season.

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Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Holiday ideas

Easy steps to planning menus

October 16th, 2014

If it seems like a struggle just to get dinner on the table every evening, consider planning menus in advance. Planned menus can help you organize grocery shopping and speed up dinnertime on those busy nights. Menu planning does not have to be complicated, it can be as simple as choosing a theme for one night a week or a cyclical menu that repeats every month.

If you choose a theme; Italian, breakfast items, or soups, it makes planning easier since you have already narrowed the categories. Think of your families favorite meals and while you are planning, jot imagedown those items you would not typically have on hand. Remember to balance the meal and include fresh fruits and vegetables. Typically there is not much preparation needed with fresh produce, especially if it can be eaten raw. Frozen fruits and vegetables are  also very nutritious and sometimes easier to have on hand, especially if you like to grocery shop only once or twice a month.

Designating one night a week to eat leftovers will help eliminate food waste—unless someone in your home consistently takes leftovers for lunch.

Designing your own cyclical menu may take a bit of time at first, but since you will be reusing it on a regular basis, in the long run it will be worth the time invested. Remember to work on your grocery list as you plan the menu. Cyclical menus typically repeat once every month to six weeks.  You may want to plan a cyclical menu to have on hand and vary the routine by planning menus for several weeks between uses of the cyclical menu.

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Food Preparation, Nutrition, recipes

Freezing Apple Pie

October 9th, 2014

 Freezing apple pie is really as easy as 1, 2, 3!

 

image1.  Prepare the apples–peel, core, slice. Place in a bowl and cover with water and lemon juice; this prevents browning while you make the crust. When filling the crust, add 1 extra tablespoon of flour or tapioca or 1/2 tablespoon of corn starch. This will help prevent leakage of filling during baking.

2. Prepare the crust, roll and place in pan. Add the top curst but DO NOT cut vent holes. You will do this just before baking.

3.  Wrap the finished pie well, or place in large freezer bag.

 

When you want to use the frozen pie, follow these directions for baking:

 

1.  Cut vent holes in the frozen crust.

2.  Put pan on cookie sheet.

3.  Bake without thawing at 450 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Lower temperature to 375 degrees and bake an additional 20-30 minutes or until top crust is brown. Enjoy the taste of the freshly baked pie.

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Food Preparation, Food Preservation, recipes

How do I know if it is a jam or a jelly?

September 18th, 2014

pepper jelly

It seems that we speak to people making fruit spreads all summer long. It starts when rhubarb and strawberries are ripe and continues into the fall.  The terminology of fruit spreads can be confusing so here is a simple explanation of the variety of products that can be made from fruit.

  1.  Jelly—possibly the most popular product for home food preservation. Jelly is made from fruit juice, sugar, and pectin. Jelly is somewhat clear and translucent with a bright color. The sugar in jelly is what preserves it, thus it is an important ingredient. Jelly should form a thick enough jel to “jiggle” when shaken, yet tender enough jel to spread on bread or toast.
  2. Jam –probably the second most popular product for our callers. Jam is a thick, sweet spread made with the whole fruit. Often the fruit is chopped or crushed. Jam will be spreadable but somewhat thicker than jelly.
  3. Preserves—these are made from whole fruit or chopped pieces of fruit. The fruit is plump and tender surrounded by somewhat thickened, clear syrup.
  4. Conserves—have a consistency more like a jam and often include nuts and dried fruits along with the fresh fruit.
  5. Marmalades—are soft jellies that contain bits or pieces of fruit and fruit peels. Often they are made of citrus fruits.

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Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Nutrition

Storing Garden Vegetables

September 11th, 2014

tomato plantIt’s time to think about harvesting vegetables as the gardening season winds down. After you have spent hours choosing seed, planting, weeding, and watering your garden it only makes sense to store the vegetables carefully. You have many options for storing vegetables. Canning, freezing and drying are not your only choices. Many vegetables benefit from moist storage in a cool, dark area. If you are fortunate enough to have basement storage that can be heated without being overheated, you can build shelves and bins for vegetables. A small room that can be insulated from the rest of the basement with shelves and separate ventilation works even better. Plans for such a room are available.

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Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Food Safety