Archive for the ‘Food Preparation’ Category

Menu ideas for the big game

January 29th, 2015

slow cooker chiliAs the “big game” approaches, it is time to start planning a party menu for game watching. It is tempting to indulge in all sorts of treats that we don’t normally eat; however you can still enjoy the game and snacks and still eat healthy. Our friends at Spend Smart. Eat Smart. have a number of delicious recipes that you can enjoy and not feel disappointed later that you overindulged. They have five different dip recipes, two different salsa recipes, cowboy caviar, sweet potato fries, and tortilla wrap ups. Enough recipes for a varied menu to last throughout the game.Combine these with their slow cooker chili and you can have a great party without much work. Adding a fruit pizza will top off the celebration. Enjoy!

If you enjoy these treats, check out the rest of the recipes they have on the website. You can improve both your budget and your health with these easy recipes.


Food Preparation, Holiday ideas, recipes

Keep It or Toss It?

January 26th, 2015

usebydatenewHere at AnswerLine, we get a lot of calls regarding food dates on labels and how long different foods can be safely stored. This can be very confusing to most people!

There are several different kinds of dates that are used by food processing companies such as:

Use-By, Best if Used By, Best Before, Sell-By, Expires On, and more!can date

What do these all mean? Most of these are quality-based dates from the manufacturers.

  • Use-By, Best if Used By, Best By, Best Before: These “use-by” and “best” dates are generally found on shelf-stable products such as ketchup, salad dressings, and peanut butter. After the “use by” or “best” date has passed, you may start to notice changes in the unopened product’s texture, color, or flavor. But as long as you’ve stored the unopened item properly, you can generally safely consume it after the date has passed.You should always examine the product to gauge the quality after the date. Discard foods that have developed an off odor, flavor or appearance. You can also call us here at AnswerLine if you have questions on what to keep or toss. The date, which is voluntarily provided by the manufacturer, tells you how long the product is likely to remain at its absolute best quality when unopened. But according to the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, it is not a safety date.


  • Sell-By: Most sell-by dates are found on perishables like meat, seafood, poultry and milk. The date is for stores to know how long they can display a particular product. You should buy a product before the sell-by date expires.  But you can still store it at home for some time beyond that date, as long as you follow safe storage procedures.For example, milk that has been continuously refrigerated can be consumed for about a week after the “sell-by” date on the carton.  Likewise, you can store ground beef in your refrigerator for one to two days after you bring it home, even if the sell-by date expires during that time.


  • Expires On: The only place you’re likely to see this type of date is on baby formula and some baby foods, which are the only food products the federal government regulates with regard to dating. Always use the product before this expiration date has passed.


  • Packing Codes: These codes, which appear as a series of letters and/or numbers on the package, sometimes indicate the date or time of manufacture. Often though they appear as meaningless jumble. Either way, packing codes help manufacturers and grocers rotate their stock and quickly locate products in the event of a recall. But they are not meant to be interpreted as an indicator of either food quality or safety.


  • Open Dates: Open dating (use of a calendar date as opposed to a code) on a food product is a date stamped on a product’s package to help the store determine how long to display the product for sale. It can also help the purchaser know the time limit to purchase or use the product at it’s best quality.  It is not a safety date.

To summarize, most dates on foods are a manufacturer’s estimation of peak quality and the product can be safely eaten past that date.  For more specific information about a specific food storage time or for food safety information, call us here at AnswerLine or visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service web site.



jill sig



Food Preparation, Food Safety, Nutrition


January 1st, 2015

KEEN ON QUINOA                                              


While training for races in the last couple of years, I started incorporating quinoa into my diet for its nutritional value and ease of preparation and absolutely love it. If you’re like most people, you have no idea what quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is, let alone how to pronounce it. Quinoa is a nutritious seed that serves as a whole grain. It can be used as a hot cereal or side dish, as a cold salad similar to pasta salad, or it can be used in recipes in place of rice or other grains.

Quinoa facts:

  • Quinoa is native to the Andean region of South America.
  • The quinoa plant produces seeds that come in different colors, including black, red, and ivory (sometimes called white or yellow).
  • Quinoa naturally produces a bitter pest resistance substance, so it can be grown without the use of pesticides. The quinoa seeds are soaked and rinsed several times before being packaged for sale to eliminate the bitter, soapy flavor.
  • Quinoa is naturally gluten-free so can be used as a substitute for whole grains that contain gluten and can be a great way for people with celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or a wheat allergy to add variety to their diet.
  • Compared with other common grains, quinoa provides higher amounts of many nutrients as shown in Table 1 below. (United States Department of Agriculture, Release 26)
  • Quinoa is one of the few plant foods that is a complete protein, containing all the essential amino acids.

Table 1.     Nutrient comparison for common grains (1 cup cooked)

Quinoa Couscous Long-grain white rice Barley
Protein (g) 8.1 3.3 4.3 3.6
Dietary Fiber (g) 5.2 1.2 0.6 6
Calcium (mg) 31 7 16 17
Magnesium (mg) 118 7 19 35
Zinc (mg) 2.0 0.2 0.8 1.3
Thiamin (mg) 0.2 0.05 0.26 0.1
Folate (mg) 78 13 153 25
Riboflavin (mg) 0.2 0.05 0.02 0.1
Vitamin E (mg) 1.2 0.1 0.06 0.02


Storing and Preparing Quinoa:

Quinoa can be store at room temperature in its original packaging, but it should be used before its “best by” date. The seed form of quinoa can be used as a replacement for rice, couscous, or pasta in a one-to-one ratio. Quinoa is prepared much like rice with one part dry seed to two parts liquid. Water or broth can be used to cook quinoa; simply add seeds and liquid to a pot and heat on high.  Once a rolling boil is reached, reduce the heat to low, cover the pot and simmer for 15 minutes.

Here are some delicious recipe ideas for quinoa from Tufts University:

Quinoa Salad With Mediterranean Flavors


Combine quinoa, water and 1/8 tsp salt in medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer over low heat until quinoa is tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Transfer to large bowl and let cool.

Meanwhile, bring large saucepan of water to a boil. Add green beans and cook until crisp-tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain and refresh under cold running water.

Whisk lemon zest, lemon juice, shallot, pepper, and remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt in small bowl. Gradually whisk in oil.

Add cherry tomatoes, olives, parsley, chives, and green beans to quinoa. Add lemon dressing; toss to coat. Salad will keep, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 1 day. If you would like to make it the day before, store the blanched green beans separately and toss them into salad shortly before serving (the acid in the dressing causes green beans to discolor).

Yield: 6 (generous 3/4-cup) servings

Per serving: Calories: 209. Total fat: 13 grams. Saturated fat: 2 grams. Cholesterol: 0 milligrams. Sodium: 261 milligrams. Carbohydrates: 21 grams: Fiber: 3 grams. Protein: 4 grams.

  • 3/4 cup Quinoa
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 2 cups green beans, stem ends trimmed, cut in 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped shallot
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 pinch pepper
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/3 cup Kalmata olives, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup snipped fresh chives

 In summary, quinoa is a delicious food that counts as a whole grain and can add variety and essential nutrients to your diet; especially protein, fiber, calcium, and magnesium. It’s simple to prepare and can be enjoyed at breakfast as a hot cereal or with other meals as a hot or cold side dish.

jill sig



Food Preparation, Nutrition, recipes

New Year and Resolutions

December 29th, 2014


As the New Year approaches, many of us think of things we would like to change in our lives. There are many different approaches to making New Year’s resolutions.

It is tempting to consider making drastic lifestyle changes to accomplish a major goal as quickly as possible. This may not be the most effective strategy; instead, consider making small, manageable steps. If you are not already a subscriber, consider looking at some of the other Iowa State University Extension and Outreach blogs for ways to improve your life.  Spend Smart. Eat Smart can help you with healthy eating while getting the most for your food dollar. The Science of Parenting blog can help if you have resolved to be the best parent you can be.  If budgeting or overspending are on your mind, look at Money Tip$.  The Eco Family  blog will help you lead a “greener” lifestyle.  Of course, the SafeFood blog is a special favorite of AnswerLine as this blog has information about keeping the food in your home safe to eat.

Resolve to check out all of these blogs for tips on leading a smarter, healthier life in 2015

Happy New Year from the AnswerLine staff.


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Child Development, Food Preparation, Food Safety, Nutrition, recipes

Potential Pastry Problems

December 22nd, 2014




We talked about the function of ingredients in pie crusts.  Now let’s look at common problems you might have and how to fix them!

  • Soggy bottom crust: A soggy crust could be caused by many things. First look at your pie pan. Using a glass, dark metal or dull metal pan will absorb the heat better than a shiny aluminum pan and will give you a browner and crispier crust. Sogginess can also be caused when the filling leaks. Make sure are any cracks in the crust are fixed so the filling doesn’t have the opportunity to leak through. Be sure that your oven temperature is set correctly. If the temperature is too low the crust won’t brown properly. After baking the pie set it on a cooling rack. Allowing air circulation around the pie will help keep the crust from getting soggy.
  • Tough texture: Make sure that you are using a pastry blender to cut in the shortening until it looks like small peas. Try and use the least amount of ice water to make your crust. Add more only if needed to form into a ball. Also try and use as little flour as possible when rolling it out and don’t overwork it.
  • Crust shrinks: If you have not chilled the shortening or if there is too much water added it can cause the crust to shrink. Make sure that when you are transferring the rolled dough to the pie pan that the dough is not stretched.   Also prick the dough with a fork before baking.
  • Edge of crust burns: When the crust starts to brown cover the edges with pieces of foil. Using pieces that are big enough to cover the edge but not the rest of the pie.
  • Crumbly pastry that won’t hold together: Make sure that you measure all of your ingredients carefully. If you have used too much shortening it could make the pastry crumbly. If needed, add more ice water 1 teaspoon at a time.

Hopefully with these suggestions you will make a wonderful pie.  Be careful though when you turn into an expert baker, you may become the designated holiday pie maker!

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Food Preparation, Holiday ideas, recipes

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


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.


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.











Food Preparation, Food Safety, Holiday ideas