Archive for the ‘Food Preparation’ Category

STOP, don’t wash that Turkey

November 23rd, 2015

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.

Signature AnswerLine Specialist

Food Preparation, Food Safety, Holiday ideas

Making food ahead

November 19th, 2015

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.

    Extension and Outreach Specialist

Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Food Safety

Freeze some yeast rolls for Thanksgiving

November 16th, 2015

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!

   Extension and Outreach Specialist and home baker

Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Quanity Cooking

Winter Squash

November 9th, 2015


winter squash

I 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.


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!

 Jill Jensen, AnswerLine specialist and aspiring cook




Food Preparation, recipes

Freezing a Pumpkin Pie

November 5th, 2015

pumpkin pkeAre you wondering how to freeze a pumpkin pie?  We get so many calls from people that are having a huge group for Thanksgiving and want to prepare as much food as possible ahead of time.  If that is your situation this year, follow these directions.

Freeze your pumpkin pie unbaked. Prepare the pie shell and filling as usual. Have the filling cold before adding it to the unbaked, chilled pie shell. Package and freeze.

When you are ready to use your pie, bake it without thawing at 400F for 10 minutes. Then reduce the oven temperature to 325F to finish baking. Use the pie within 4-5 weeks of freezing for best quality.

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Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Holiday ideas

Cooking Oils

November 2nd, 2015


Are you bewildered when you go to the store and look at the large display of cooking oils? There are a wide variety of oils on the market and it can be confusing to know which ones are best for cooking and which are healthy for your heart.

First, remember that oil is a fat, and fat calories are still fat calories, no matter which type of oil you use. So use the least amount of fat possible to prepare your foods while still getting the greatest amount of taste and health benefits.

There are some important points to remember when cooking with oils.

  1. Smoke Point:

The smoke point is the temperature that causes oil to start smoking, which produces toxic fumes and harmful free radicals. Oils have different smoke points, so some oils are better suited for cooking at higher temperatures than others.

High Smoke Point Oils (best for searing and browning)

Note: also deep frying, but this method is unhealthy and not recommended.

Medium High Smoke Point Oils

(best for baking, oven cooking or stir-frying)

Medium Smoke Point Oils

(best for light sautéing, sauces and low-heat baking)

No-heat Oils

(best for making dressings, dips or marinades)

Almond Canola Corn Flaxseed
Avocado Grapeseed Hemp Wheat Germ
Hazelnut Macadamia nut Pumpkin seed Walnut
Palm Light virgin olive Sesame
Sunflower Peanut Soybean
Light olive/refined olive Virgin coconut


2. Which oils are healthiest?

All cooking oils are healthy because the fat in liquid vegetable oil is mostly unsaturated, including both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Using unsaturated fats in place of more saturated fats can help you lower your total cholesterol and your LDL’s. LDL’s are the so-called “bad cholesterol” because they tend to stick to the sides of your blood vessels.

Vegetable oils are trans fat-free. Trans fats are formed when food producers make a solid fat from a liquid vegetable oil. For example stick margarine is made from liquid vegetable oil and made solid by the food manufacturer through a process called “partial hydrogenation”. This is also how vegetable shortening is made. Many researchers believe that trans fats may be just as bad or even worse for us by clogging arteries!

3. Omega 3 Fats

Omega 3 fats are one of the polyunsaturated fats. Research suggests that Omega 3 fatty acids may lower your chances of getting heart disease, high blood pressure, and some cancers. They might also help with arthritis. We cannot make omega 3 fats in our bodies so we need to get them from our foods. Oils high in Omega 3 fats include: flaxseed, canola, soybean, and walnut.

4. Flavor

So which oils should you use in cooking? The taste of oils should play a role in your buying and cooking decisions. Olive oil is commonly used in salad dressings and for sautéing vegetables because of its distinctive flavor. It also makes an excellent alternative to butter – just put a little olive oil in a small dish and dip your bread. Canola and other vegetable oils have a blander flavor which makes them suitable for baking or any time you don’t want a strong flavor.

jill sig

Food Preparation, Nutrition

Enjoy pumpkin seeds

October 29th, 2015

It’s time to get those pumpkins carved and it is my husband’s favorite time of year.  He loves pumpkin seeds but the ones he buys the rest of the year just are not as tasty as those we make at home.  So he is glad imagewhen it is time to roast our own seeds.

It really is an easy thing to do.  As you carve the pumpkin, scoop out the seeds into a colander and rinse the pumpkin “goo” off the seeds.  You will need to get your hands a little dirty as the stream of water will not remove all of the “goo”, you will need to move the seeds around with your hands. F. for

Next, place the wet seeds onto a dry cookie sheet.  Salt or season as desired and bake at 325°F. for 15-20 minutes or until lightly browned.  Store in an airtight container.  Enjoy.

You also have the option of roasting the seeds unseasoned and then drizzling with a bit of butter or olive oil and then adding seasoning.  Ranch can be a popular choice.

Extension and Outreach Specialist and mom

Food Preparation, Food Preservation

Tips for maintaining cutting boards

October 26th, 2015

Cutting boardFall can be a great time to think about catching up on some things around the house. I’m thinking about giving my cutting boards a thorough cleaning and oiling after the workout they got this summer. I have a number of cutting boards at my house. I use my vintage wooden cutting boards for cutting fresh fruits and vegetables. I use my plastic boards for cutting both raw and cooked meat. Of course I use a different cutting board for raw and cooked meats to avoid cross contamination.

I clean the wooden boards with a damp dishcloth. I try not to get the cutting boards overly wet as that can cause cracking. I sanitize the boards after use with a mild bleach solution. I use 1 teaspoon of bleach in a quart of water. I spray the surface of the board with this solution and let the board air dry. If I used a stronger bleach solution, the boards might dry out and crack.

My wooden boards do not have a varnished finish, so I oil the boards with mineral oil when they seem to be getting dry. I warm the oil a bit and apply a coat, going in the same direction as the wood grain. I let the oil dry and give it another coat after 6 or so hours. This oiling will help keep the board from drying out and cracking. If that happened, I would have to toss the board or use it only decoratively. If my boards were deeply scored by knife marks, I would sand them and then oil them.

I send my plastic cutting boards through the dish washer. The hot water and dish washing detergent sanitize the boards after each use. Now I’ll be ready for all the cutting and chopping I do to make those hearty stews, soups, and casseroles this winter.






Cleaning, Food Preparation, Food Safety

More Apple Recipes

October 19th, 2015


It has been a great year for apples! We are helping consumers can pie filling, make apple butter and applesauce and freeze them for use in the winter.  Here are several more unusual recipes that I wanted to share that will give you even more ways to preserve and use the abundance of apples.



There are many berry syrups but try making this Apple-Cinnamon Syrup from the newest Ball Blue Book.

Apple-Cinnamon Syrup

(about 6 pint jars)

6 cups apple juice, fresh or bottled (without added calcium)

3 sticks cinnamon, broken

5 cups sugar

4 cups water

3 cups corn syrup

¼ cup lemon juice

COOK: Combine apple juice and cinnamon sticks in a medium saucepan. Simmer 5 minutes; set aside. Combine sugar and water in a medium saucepan; boil to 230°F. Add apple juice, cinnamon sticks, and corn syrup to sugar syrup; boil 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in lemon juice. Remove cinnamon sticks.

FILL: Ladle hot syrup into a hot jar, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Clean jar rim. Center lid on jar and adjust band to fingertip-tight. Place jar on the rack elevated over simmering water (180°F) in boiling-water canner. Repeat until all jars are filled.

PROCESS: Lower the rack into simmering water. Water must cover jars by 1 inch. Adjust heat to medium-high, cover canner and bring water to a rolling boil. Process pint jars 10 minutes (below 1,000 feet elevation) 15 minutes (1,000-3,000 feet elevation). Turn off heat and remove cover. Let jars cool 5 minutes. Remove jars from canner; do not retighten bands if loose. Cool 12 hours. Check seals. Label and store jars.


Spiced Apple Rings are a great side dish with Roast Turkey or Chicken. The red color of the apple rings are especially fun to serve around the holidays!  This recipe is from So Easy to Preserve, Sixth Edition, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service.

Spiced Apple Rings

(about 8 or 9 pint jars)

12 pounds firm tart apples (maximum diameter, 2 ½ inches)

12 cups sugar

6 cups water

1 1/4  cups white vinegar (5%)

3 tablespoons whole cloves

¾ cup red hot cinnamon candies or 8 cinnamon sticks and 1 teaspoon red food coloring (optional)

Wash apples. To prevent discoloration, peel and core one apple at a time.  Immediately cut the apple crosswise into ½ inch rings and immerse in an anti-darkening solution.  To make flavored syrup, combine sugar, water, vinegar, cloves, cinnamon candies (or cinnamon sticks and food coloring) in a 6-quart saucepan.  Heat to a boil, stirring constantly.  Simmer 3 minutes.  Remove apples from anti-darkening solution and drain well.  Add to hot syrup and cook 5 minutes.  Fill half-pint or pint jars (preferably wide-mouth) with apple rings, leaving ½ inch headspace.  Fill jars to ½ inch from top with hot syrup.  Remove air bubbles.  Wipe jar rims.  Adjust lids.  Process 10 minutes (below 1,000 feet elevation) or 15 minutes (1,000-3,000 feet elevation) in a Boiling Water Bath.


Sweet Apple Relish is a perfect complement to barbecued meat. This recipe is also from So Easy to Preserve.

Sweet Apple Relish

(4 pint jars)

4 pounds apples, peeled, cored and sliced thin

1 ¼ cup distilled white vinegar (5%)

1 cup sugar

½ cup light corn syrup

2/3  cups water

1 ½ teaspoons whole cloves

4 pieces stick cinnamon   (1 ½ inches each)

1 teaspoon whole allspice

Immerse apples in a solution of 1/2 teaspoon ascorbic acid and 2 quarts of water to prevent browning. Combine sugar, corn syrup, 1 1/4 cups white vinegar, water, cloves, cinnamon and allspice; bring to a boil. Drain apples and add to syrup. Simmer 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove cinnamon sticks from syrup and place one piece in each jar. Fill hot fruit into hot jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Fill jars 1/2 inch from top with boiling hot syrup. Remove air bubbles. Wipe jar rims. Adjust lids. Process 10 minutes (below 1,000 feet elevation) or 15 minutes (1,000-3,000 feet elevation) in a Boiling Water Bath.


Taking advantage of all of the wonderful apples this year will give you enjoyment all through the winter. Remember you don’t have to just make applesauce or pies.  Be adventuresome and try these new recipes that will become family favorites!

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Food Preparation, Food Preservation, recipes

Tips for using Green Tomatoes

October 8th, 2015

Green Tomatoes


The leaves are starting to turn colors, the farmers are in the field and the nights are becoming cool! These are all signs that fall is here and the end of gardening is definitely in sight! Many home gardeners still have green tomatoes on the vine and they are calling us wondering what they can do to preserve them. Here are some steps for selecting, picking and storing tomatoes.


Selecting and Picking

  •  Pick ripe, nearly ripe and mature green fruits before frost occurs.  Mature green tomatoes are those with a glossy, whitish green fruit color and mature size.
  •  Select fruits only from strong healthy vines, and pick only those fruits free of disease, insect or mechanical damage.
  •  Remove stems to prevent them from puncturing each other.
  •  If dirty, gently wash and allow the fruit to air dry.


  •  Store tomatoes in boxes, 1 to 2 layers deep, or in plastic bags with a few holes for air circulation.
  •  If you have a cool, moderately humid room, simply place them on a shelf.
  •  Keep fruit out of direct sunlight.  They may be stored in the dark.
  •  As tomatoes ripen, they naturally release ethylene gas, which stimulates ripening.  To slow ripening, sort out ripened fruits from green tomatoes each week.  To speed up ripening, place green or partially ripe fruits in a bag or box with a ripe tomato.

Green, mature tomatoes stored at 65-70° F, will ripen in about 2 weeks.  Cooler temperatures slow the ripening process.  At 55° F tomatoes will slowly ripen, but may of inferior quality. Likewise if tomatoes are stored where the humidity is too high then the fruit can mold and rot.  If humidity is too low, the fruit may shrivel and dry out.  Since homes vary in humidity levels, you will need to learn by trial and error what works best for you.   Unfortunately tomatoes ripened indoors are not as flavorful as vine ripened fruits.  However, compared to store bought, you will be delighted with your own home ripened tomatoes.

If you would prefer to use the tomatoes when they are green and are looking for some recipes there are several to choose from including fried green tomatoes, green tomato pie, green tomato bread and green tomato relish. If you are interested in these recipes use this link to download the publication A Harvest of Green Tomatoes from the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service.

Whether you choose to ripen them or use them green you will be enjoying the fruits of your labor and the wonderful dishes that you can make from growing things in your garden.

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Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Horticulture, recipes