Archive for the ‘Food Preparation’ Category

What’s in a Seed?

August 27th, 2015

Have You Had Your Seeds Today?image

My kids accuse me of turning into a bird with all of the seeds I include in my diet. The health community has paid more attention in the last few years to seeds that are on the market such as chia, hemp, flax, pumpkin and others.  Seeds are nutritionally dense and are high in protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and healthy fats.

The little guys can be tossed into salads, used in recipes or added to breakfast smoothies.  Here’s a run-down on just a few of the different seeds available in most markets and the nutritional value they bring to the table.

CHIA           Rich source of ALA omega 3 fatty acids. One tsp. of chia has 2.5X more protein than kidney beans, 3X more iron than spinach, 6X more calcium than milk, 7X more vitamin C than oranges, 8X more omega 3 than salmon, 27% of the RDI (Recommended Daily Intake) for phosphorus which promotes bone health, and 15X more magnesium than broccoli. One serving provides 33% of the RDI for fiber. Soak chia in water and use as egg replacement.  They are also high in soluble fiber which lowers cholesterol and lowers blood sugars.
FLAX           Also high in ALA omega 3 fatty acids, one tablespoon provides more omega 3 than the RDI.  They reduce inflammation, promote bone health and may help reduce blood pressure.  Flax seeds contain lignin which may help prevent certain types of cancer. These seeds are Flax seeds are also high in soluble fiber for lowering cholesterol and blood sugars., playing roles in the prevention and management of both heart disease and diabetes.  NOTE:  Flax seeds should be ground to obtain the nutritional benefits from them! Whole flax seeds pass through the intestines undigested and the nutrients are not absorbed.
HEMP         These seeds contain all 9 essential amino acids making hemp a source of complete protein.  They are also good sources of both soluble and insoluble fiber, omega 3 fats and fat soluble vitamins A, D and E.  Hemp seeds are safe and do not contain psychoactive ingredients.
POPPY SEEDS         These seeds come from the plant that produces opium. Rich in cholesterol-lowering oleic and linoleic oils, they spoil quickly.  They’re high in B vitamins, iron, copper, potassium and zinc as well as both soluble and insoluble fiber.
PUMPKIN           Pumpkin seeds are high in protein, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, zinc, iron, copper, B vitamins and vitamins K and E.
SESAME            These are also high in calcium, phosphorus, manganese, zinc and other antioxidants. They also contain fiber. Two unique substances, sesamin and sesamolin, part of the lignin family, have been shown to lower cholesterol and protect the liver from oxidative damage.

How much of these nutrition-packed little gems should you eat? Amazingly, just 2 tablespoons of seeds will provide heart healthy-benefits.  So sprinkle some seeds into your meals for an easy healthy addition.

jill sig

Food Preparation, Nutrition

Cookie Troubleshooting

August 24th, 2015

Baked Chocolate Chip Cookies

We often get calls from consumers that are having problems with baking cookies.  I thought it might be good to share some of the common problems and what they might be caused by.


Excessive spread, loss of shape

  • Use of the wrong margarine. Make sure that your margarine has 100 calories per tablespoon. Light margarine, tub or corn oil margarine contain too much liquid and will make the cookies spread.
  • If you are using butter make sure the dough is cold. Butter has a lower melting point and if the dough is warm the butter melts before the cookie is baked and they will spread more.
  • Do not place dough on a hot cookie sheet. The dough will start to melt before they are baked and will be flatter.

Tough texture

  • Overmixing of the dough.
  • Too little sugar or fat. If you want to reduce sugar or fat look for recipes that have been tested with lower sugar and fat. It doesn’t always work to just reduce fat and sugar and have them turn out.

Bottom crust too dark

  • Cookie sheet not centered in the oven.
  • Dark cookie sheet used. The dark color absorbs the heat.
  • Crowded oven.

Dry and crumbly

  • Wrong proportion of ingredients.
  • Incorrectly measured.
  • Rack position not centered.
  • Oven temperature wrong


  • Overbaked.
  • Using flour that is too high in protein (bread flour).

Off flavor

  • Rancid shortening, nuts or coconut.
  • Poor quality of ingredients. This could include old flour.
  • Too much baking powder.
  • Storing cookies improperly causes cookies to become stale and pick up off odors.

If you are having problems with your cookies give us a call at AnswerLine.  We would be happy to discuss with you what the problem might be.

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Food Preparation, recipes

Why are we such sticklers at AnswerLine when it comes to canning advice?

August 17th, 2015

BWB1Why are we such sticklers at AnswerLine when it comes to canning advice?  Callers are sometimes a bit frustrated with us when we answer canning questions.  We often have to tell a caller that the old family recipe for a canned product is not safe.  We must advise them that oven canning, canning low acid vegetables in a water bath canner, and using “any old recipe” for pickles are not safe practices.

Times have changed since Great Grandma was canning for her family.  We now have recipes that have been scientifically tested to ensure a safe product.  They are available through several resources.  Iowa State University Extension and Outreach has the Preserve the Taste of Summer series of recipes, The National Center for Home Food Preservation through the University of Georgia has both a website and a cookbook “So Easy to Preserve”, the USDA has a Home Canning Guide, and the Ball company has the Ball Blue Book (new expanded edition this year) as well as their Complete Book of Home Preserving.

The recipes and procedures in these books have been scientifically tested in a laboratory to ensure the coldest part of a canning jar gets hot enough long enough to kill the botulism bacteria if present.  We don’t want you to cut corners and put your family at risk.  Botulism can be a deadly disease and those at the greatest risk are those who are often most dear to our hearts; the elderly and the very young.  Pregnant women and those people with a compromised immune system are also at great risk.

We sometimes don’t enjoy our role as the “canning police” but our main goal is to help you keep your family safe for years to come. Please contact us if you have any canning questions or need some tested recipes.


Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Food Safety

Substituting Ingredients

August 10th, 2015

One of the most frustrating things that can happen is when you are trying to make something to eat and you don’t have all of the ingredients.  Many times there are substitutions that can be made with ingredients that you have at home.  I thought it might be helpful to go over a few of the more common questions that we get.

  • My recipe calls for vegetable shortening and I don’t have any. What can I use?

The best substitute for vegetable shortening would be butter or margarine.  To substitute one cup of shortening you would use 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons of butter or margarine.  Liquid oil cannot be used to substitute for a solid.

  • My recipe calls for self-rising flour and I don’t have any? Is there any way to make my own?

To make 1 cup of self-rising flour use 1 cup of sifted all-purpose flour and add 1 ½ teaspoons of baking powder and 1/8 teaspoon of salt.

  • I need baking powder but only have baking soda. Is there a way to substitute this?

Baking powder actually consists of baking soda plus an acidic ingredient to create carbon dioxide bubbles when moistened and heated in your recipes.  Here are the substitutes that you can use.

  • ¼ teaspoon of baking soda + ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda + ½ cup buttermilk, sour milk or plain yogurt (to replace ½ cup liquid in recipe)
  • My recipe calls for large eggs but I only have medium. How many should I use?

Most recipes use large eggs.  Based on the total number of eggs you are adding to a recipe you might need to add additional eggs if the ones you are using are smaller.  Use this chart from the Egg Council to determine if you need to add additional eggs to your recipe.

egg chart


If you have a recipe that you need help with give us a call at AnswerLine.  If there is a substitution we will help you find it!

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Food Preparation, recipes

Picky Eaters

August 3rd, 2015

JerryDo you have a toddler that is a picky or fussy eater? This can be a huge problem for young families. It seems that everyone has a different opinion about what caused this and how to “fix” it. If you or someone you know is having this problem, we have a few tips that may be useful.


  • Remove tempting snack foods from your home. Try not to buy these foods, or make them hard to find so the toddler is not aware they may be an option for a meal or snack. Research has demonstrated toddlers tend to eat foods that are easily available.
  • Since easily available foods are more readily eaten, keep healthy snacks like fruit and vegetables on the counter tops or prepared in the refrigerator (peeled, sliced, or individually portioned).
  • Remember that food is food, not a punishment or a reward. Try to avoid making some foods seem like punishments or others seem more special. Vegetables are not for punishment and ice cream should not be a reward.
  • Remember young small bodies cannot hold large quantities of food and snacks are often necessary. Just help them understand that a snack is a snack and not the meal. Studies show that children that eat regular meals have healthier weights and that planning snacks can teach healthy eating habits.
  • Filling a child’s plate-restaurant style- can help mealtime choices seem less overwhelming.
  • Encourage your child to help plan meals, grocery shop, and prepare food. They are more likely to try food they have helped fix.
  • Learn to savor and enjoy food. A quiet table with family conversation will encourage eating and enjoyment of food.

Helping your child or grandchild develop a healthy attitude towards food is a skill that will help them for the rest of their lives.


Child Development, Food Preparation, Nutrition

Jam and Jelly problems?

July 9th, 2015

Late spring is jam and jelly season at AnswerLine. We get lots of calls this time of year from folks wondering what went wrong. I’ve listed some of the more common problems and their causes for jam and jelly.

Sugar crystals in my jelly:

  • You may have used more sugar than the recipe listed.
  • There might have been undissolved grains of sugar on the sides of the pan that washed into the jelly while ladling into the jars.
  • Overcooking the jam or jelly by cooking too long.
  • Doubling or tripling the batch.
  • Crystals could be tartrate crystals—these are found in grape juice that has not been allowed to settle and strained.

Bubbles in my jelly:

  • Trapped air in the jelly—remember to skim foam before filling jars.
  • Fill jars quickly to prevent partial gelling before jars are filled.
  • Bubbles may be an indication of spoiling. If the bubbles are moving discard.

Jam or Jelly did not set:

  • You may have overcooked the fruit while extracting the juice or used too much water in this part of the process.
  • You may not have measured the ingredients accurately—or doubled the recipe.
  • You may not have cooked the jam or jelly quite long enough.
  • You may have moved the jam or jelly before it had a chance to set up in the jars.
  • Or, the jam or jelly may need several weeks to set up properly.

Jam or Jelly seems to be weeping:

  • There may be extra acid in the juice that made the pectin unstable.
  • You may be storing the jam or jelly in a place that is too warm.

My Jam or Jelly seems to be darker than I expected:

  • You may have boiled the jam or jelly too long or cooked it too slowly.

The jam or jelly may have been stored in a place that is too hot

My Jelly is cloudy:

  • You may have used fruit that is under ripe.
  • You may have squeezed the juice bag while straining the juice from the fruit. Just let the juice drip out next time.
  • You may have waited too long to place the jam or jelly in the jar. Ladle it into jars before it begins to set up.

My Jam or Jelly is too stiff:

  • You may have overcooked the jam or jelly.
  • The fruit you used may have too much pectin in it—remember to use ripe fruit.

Remember to call us for directions to remake jams or jellies that do not gel properly. We love to be able help.


Food Preparation, Food Preservation, recipes

All About Apples

June 25th, 2015


Even though it is not officially apple season I have been finding great prices on apples at the grocery store.  Since apples vary in taste and texture some are better for eating, some for making applesauce and some for baking in pies.  Here are some varieties that are available locally and how they are best used courtesy of the Washington Apple Commission.

Usage Chart

apple chart


Here are some apples facts that will help you in determining how many apples you will need to purchase.

  • 3 medium sized apples equal approximately 1 pound
  • Pared and sliced, 1 pound apples yields 2 3/4 cups
  • A peck of apples weighs 10.5 pounds
  • A bushel of apples weighs 42 pounds
  • A bushel of apples will yield 15 – 20 quarts of applesauce

So take advantage of these great prices and enjoy some apples today!

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Food Preparation, Food Preservation

Make your own flavored vinegar

June 22nd, 2015

With the popularity of cooking shows, cooks are looking for more exotic ingredients.  One such item is flavored vinegar.  Flavored vinegar is really easy to make as long as you follow the recipe carefully to ensure a safe product.

Glass jars or bottles are best for home flavored vinegar.  Be sure to check for cracks or nicks in the bottle.  Choose bottles that can be easily sealed with a cork or a screw top.  Wash the jars thoroughly with hot soapy water.  Next, sterilize the bottles by boiling for 10 minutes.  More complete directions are available from the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Choose flavoring herbs that you can pick just before you want to make the vinegar.  Choose sprigs that have not yet blossomed for the best flavor.  Pick them early in the day—just after the morning dew has dried. Use only the best, freshest looking leaves.  Discard stems, browned, or blemished leaves. Allow 3-4 sprigs per pint (2 cups) of vinegar.  Wash and dry the herbs before dipping them in a sanitizing solution.  Use 6 cups of water and 1 teaspoon of household bleach to make the sanitizing solution.  Rinse the herbs after dipping and blot dry again.  You can also use dried herbs to make flavored vinegar.  If you want to use dry herbs, use 3 tablespoons per pint of vinegar.

Choose white vinegar if you want to use very mild tasting herbs.  Apple cider vinegar is less harsh tasting but has an amber color that may not be appealing.  You can also choose champagne vinegar for mild flavored herbs but it will be a more expensive choice.  Red wine vinegar will work best with strong flavored herbs like rosemary but would overpower the flavor of a delicate herb.

Prepare to flavor your vinegar by placing the herbs in the sterilized jars.  Avoid overfilling the jar; use only 3-4 sprigs or 3 tablespoons of herbs per every 2 cups of vinegar.  If the herb you choose has large, broad leaves, you may want to coarsely chop them or bruise the leaves.  Heat the vinegar to just below the boiling point.  Then pour over the flavoring herbs.  Fill the jars to within 1/4 of an inch from the top.  Screw on the lids and let the jars cool, undisturbed.  Store them in a cool, dark place for at least 3-4 weeks to allow flavor to develop.

You will want to check the flavor after a month. Test your vinegar by putting a few drops on a slice of white bread.  If the flavor has developed enough for you, strain the vinegar, following directions listed below. If the flavor seems too strong, dilute your flavored vinegar with more of the base vinegar you used previously. 

You can strain the vinegar with cheesecloth or a damp coffee filter.  You may want to strain the vinegar several times to remove any cloudiness.









Food Preparation, Food Preservation, recipes

Grill Gifts for Fathers Day

June 15th, 2015

grilling utensils (2)It’s father’s day and if your father or husband is a griller what better gift for him than accessories for the grill!  We have assembled our top ten list to make your dad feel special on this day and all summer long!

  • A new grill brush will make cleaning the grates easier. Make sure it has a long handle since the grates clean more easily when they are warm. Many also have a scraping or curved blade that helps to clean the individual grates.
  • If you like to cook vegetables on the grill a roasting tray or basket makes it easy to do. Usually they have sides so that the vegetables can be stirred to ensure even cooking.
  • An instant read thermometer is a must. This allows the griller to know when food has reached a safe temperature. This also helps to avoid overcooking which decreases the quality of the food.
  • A new basting brush is another great grill tool. Many are now made of heat resistant materials and are dish washer safe.
  • Grill covers not only keep your grill clean but many now are available with logos of your favorite team on them! Also available are mats that go under your grill. These help to keep any grease that could drip from the grill, from staining your deck.
  • If your father uses a charcoal grill and doesn’t have a Chimney Starter it would make a perfect gift! It allows you to stack the charcoal in the canister and light some newspaper underneath. In no time at all the charcoal will be hot, ashed over and ready to use. With this there is no need for lighter fluid.
  • If your dad likes to cook ground beef patties a burger press is a must. It makes the perfectly shaped patty that will hold together when cooking. Most are bun sized so you are assured that your burger will fit in your bun.
  • New spatula, tongs and forks are grilling necessities. Make sure that they have long handles to reach to the back of the grill and if you find some that are dishwasher safe, it will make clean up a breeze.
  • A grilling cookbook is also a wonderful gift. Many times they have pictures that show the finished product which helps to determine if you want to try the recipe! Many also give vegetables, fruits and even dessert recipes.
  • Another fun idea is to put together a basket with a variety of rubs and sauces. Or find a recipe and make your own rubs with spice combinations.

Giving any of these grilling gifts will bring a smile to your dad’s face.  Hopefully he will invite you to join him for dinner as he tries them out!

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Food Preparation, Food Safety, Holiday ideas

Inappropriate Exhibits for County Fairs

June 8th, 2015

County fair season is just around the corner and soon we will be getting lots of questions at AnswerLine about the safety of food projects for the fair. This can be a confusing subject for 4-H members, their parents, and even some judges. On the surface, the rules may seem to be rather random. However, if you can understand what the rules are based on, then it is a bit easier to understand why the rules are necessary.

The first and most important reason for not allowing a food item to be entered at a fair is to prevent judges from sampling foods that are not safe and could potentially make them sick. Many foods are perfectly safe to take from the oven or stove and eat at a family meal. However, when the food has cooled and not been refrigerated, bacteria may grow in the food that could make someone sick. This is the reason behind not allowing meats, foods that must be stored in the refrigerator, uncooked eggs, and cream cheese frostings with smaller than a 2:1 ratio of sugar to cream cheese.

Other inappropriate foods are those containing alcohol (as no 4-H members are old enough to consume alcohol), or breads with chopped and dehydrated vegetables, meats, or layers of cheese. These last foods have the potential to be a botulism risk.

Since 4-H is a part Iowa State University Extension and Outreach; the information presented must be accurate and safe. All home food preservation exhibits must follow safe, tested recipes and procedures. Canning jars must be labeled with the food item, date preserved, method of preservation, and source of recipe. Recipes must be those that are from current, accepted resources. Those resources include: The USDA canning guide, The National Center for Home Food Preservation, Extension and Outreach recipes, and the Ball Blue Books (post 2009). Recipes that have been handed down in the family may also meet those criteria—as long as the family recipe is identical in /procedure/processing time. 4-H members must also remember to adjust processing time on canning recipes if the member lives in a county that has an altitude above 1000 feet.

Another problem area is foods that are prepared in unusual containers. Food grade containers must be used for baking; no baking in flower pots. Breads baked and sealed in jars are also considered unsafe. These products can be botulism risks because of the low acid and lack of oxygen in the jars with bread. Great conditions for the botulism bacteria to thrive. Canning jars are not designed for the dry heat of an oven and could shatter while cakes/breads are being baked. Paper bags are not considered safe as there may be chemicals in the ink or glue that could contaminate food.

There is a way that many of the inappropriate exhibits could be exhibited at the fair. Many of these foods can be made at home and photographed. The member can evaluate the product and write a detailed report with the goals, learning, and procedure. This would allow an inappropriate product to be judged and exhibited at the fair. This method allows a wide range of projects such as: learning to make the evening meal for the family, custard pie baking, freezing vegetables or fruits to preserve them, or making breads with vegetables or layers of cheese inside the bread. Another alternative is to practice making breads with vegetables or cheese in it at home but being sure that the bread baked to exhibit at the fair does not include those unsafe ingredients. These methods will not work for all inappropriate foods. Baking in nonfood safe containers or canning jars would remain inappropriate.

Remember that you can always call us at AnswerLine and we will be happy to help you know if the project is appropriate to exhibit at the fair.


Food Preparation, Food Safety