Are you planning a graduation party, baby shower, or family reunion? At AnswerLine, we get many calls from people working on menus or other party ideas. We are always glad to help you
Smorgasbord with a variety of choices
with your planning
If you have someone graduating, It isn’t too early to start thinking about your celebration. At Iowa State University, graduation is scheduled for May 6 and 7. High school graduation parties start in May and continue through early June. If you are planning some sort of gathering of family or a party for friends and family, we are happy to help answer any questions. We have lots of experience and resources that can help people know how much food will be needed for the celebration. We also have almost any color punch recipe you could want to serve.
Some of the questions we answer often for party planners:
- How much fruit do I need to buy to make fruit salad?
- How many potatoes will I need for potato salad?
- What size serving should I use for ______ food?
- Do I have enough food on my menu for my party of ____ people?
- How many servings do I need to feed _____ people?
- What food can I make ahead?
- How can I be sure not to run out of food?
- How do I keep my food safe for 2-3 hours?
Please call us. We love to help!
Even the AnswerLine staff is not immune to accidents in the kitchen. I thought that I was being careful while draining a pan of sweet potatoes. I was using two silicone pot holders and thought I was gripping the pan well while draining off the cooking water. Unfortunately, I had cut the potatoes into small pieces and I was trying to make the opening between the pan and the lid a little narrower to avoid losing some of the potatoes in the sink. In a split second, the boiling water came streaming over my hand, scalding the back of it. I immediately ran the burn under cold water and iced the spot for a while. The burn was not a terribly deep or painful one, but it has been a great reminder to follow safe practices to avoid another burn in the future.
Here are some tips for avoiding burns from the US Fire Administration and FEMA:
- Prevent spills by using the back burner when possible. Always turn pot handles away from the stove’s edge.
- All appliance cords need to be kept coiled and away from counter edges.
- Use oven mitts or potholders when moving hot food from ovens, microwave ovens, or stovetops. Never use wet oven mitts or potholders as they can cause scald burns.
- Replace old or worn oven mitts.
- Young children are at high risk of being burned by hot food and liquids. Keep children away from cooking areas by enforcing a “kid-free zone” of 3 feet (1 meter) around the stove.
- Never hold a child while cooking, drinking, or carrying hot foods or liquids.
- When children are old enough, teach them to cook safely. Supervise them closely.
I do try to follow these tips when I’m cooking; because I have grandchildren that are often at my home. Taking a few minutes to review safety procedures is smart. It only took a split second of carelessness on my part to get a painful burn.
Have you ever wondered when you are cooking with alcohol how much is remaining in the foods that you are preparing? Many times people think that when alcohol is heated it disappears, but that is not the case. Some alcohol does burn off during cooking but it depends on when it was added, how much was added, and how long the food cooks. Cooked food can retain from 5-85 percent of the alcohol that was added. When alcohol is added to uncooked foods, the alcohol content remains the same. The longer a food is cooked the less alcohol remains in it. This chart listed below shows the percentage of alcohol burnt off when foods are cooked.
If you would prefer to not add alcohol to your recipes there are some options. Wines and Liquors do add a depth of flavor to recipes that can’t be always be matched, but there are several things that you can try. For more specific advice use this chart from the New York Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. They have a very complete list of substitutions.
I like to make my own egg noodles when I am making a casserole. It seems to add a whole new dimension to an old family recipe. The recipe is really pretty easy. It doesn’t take too long, especially if you have one of these noodle makers.
Simply mix together these ingredients in a large bowl:
- 1 ½ cups of flour
- ½ teaspoon of salt
- 1 tablespoon of cooking oil
- 2 eggs
Turn them out onto a floured surface and knead gently until the dough sticks together.
Cut the dough into four equal sized pieces. Flatten and roll through the widest setting on the noodle maker. Fold the dough in half and roll again. Repeat this step a third time. Now set the roller distance at the next higher setting. Roll once and then set the roller distance higher (thinner/more narrow). After the third rolling, lay the long strips on a flat surface and cut into manageable lengths. The length of the noodles is determined by the size of these pieces.
Now roll the noodle dough through the cutters. At this point, you can either place the dough into boiling water to cook the noodles or allow the noodles to dry a bit before freezing the raw noodle dough. My daughter likes to make 3 batches of noodles when she makes noodles. That allows her one batch for the recipe she is making for dinner that night and two batches to put in the freezer. The noodles can go directly from the freezer to the boiling water. This is an easy convenience food to have on hand for those nights you need a quick supper.
Easter is right around the corner and we often get calls about using eggs safely. Here are the answers to some questions regarding eggs that we often get asked.
- What do the dates on egg cartons mean? The dates on egg cartons help the stores to know which cartons are older and which ones are newer. The recommendation is to use the eggs within 3-5 weeks after bringing them home from the store. This time will often be beyond the date on the carton. The best way to tell if an egg is bad is to crack it in a cup and smell it before using. A bad egg will have a definite odor whether it is raw or hard boiled.
- How long can you keep hard boiled eggs? You should refrigerate hard boiled eggs within two hours of cooking them and use them within a week.
- Can raw eggs be used in recipes? The only egg that you can use in a recipe where the egg is not cooked would be a pasteurized egg. Many grocery stores now sell shell eggs that have been heated to a temperature that kills bacteria. These are found in a carton that states that they are pasteurized. Many times the eggs will have a P stamped on them indicating they are pasteurized. Liquid eggs are also pasteurized and can be used in recipes where the eggs are not cooked.
- Can you pasteurize eggs at home? The equipment that pasteurizes eggs is not available for home use. There is a very fine line to cooking them long enough to kill bacteria without cooking the contents of the egg.
- Is a brown egg more nutritious than a white one? The breed of the hen determines that color of the egg shell. Nutrient levels are not significantly different in white or brown eggs.
- What does it mean If an egg floats? Just because an egg floats in water when you are boiling them does not mean that it is unsafe. As an egg gets older the air cell enlarges making it more buoyant.
- Why are some hard boiled eggs harder to peel? A fresh egg is hard to peel. The air cell that is found at the larger end of the egg increases in size the longer the egg is stored. As the contents contract and the air cell increases the shell becomes easier to peel. So if you have eggs that are older use those to hard boil to make peeling easier.
- What temperature do I need to cook my egg dishes to ensure they are safe? To make sure your egg dishes are safe use a food thermometer and make sure it is cooked to 160° F in the middle of the dish.
- Are Easter eggs safe to eat? Be sure that dyed eggs are returned to the refrigerator within 2 hours of coloring them. Also use a food-safe coloring so that if is it absorbed through the shell it is safe to eat the egg. Do not hide hard boiled eggs where bacteria can contaminate them. That includes in the dirt outside or where pets can find them.
- Should eggs be stored in the refrigerator door? It is not recommended that eggs be stored in the refrigerator door. When a refrigerator door is opened the foods stored in the door tend to warm up faster than foods stored in the inside. Store your eggs in the carton and put them in the coldest part of the refrigerator.
- Can you eat eggs that are cracked? Check your eggs at the store and then again when you bring them home. If an egg has cracked on the way home from the store remove it from the shell and put it in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator and use it within 2 days. Eggs that crack while you are boiling them are safe to eat. Don’t buy cracked eggs from the store.
- Using eggs safely is important. If you have any additional questions about eggs give us a call at AnswerLine.
Corned beef Patrick’s Day
It is nearly St Patrick’s Day so we are beginning to get calls about making corned beef. Peopleoften want to know why the corn is in the name of the dish as there is not typically any corn found in corned beef. Actually, the corn in corned beef refers to the “corns” of salt used to preserve the meat. Salting meat heavily was one way of preserving meat before refrigeration was widely available.
As you are purchasing the meat, remember to look at the sell by or use by date on the wrapper. Store the meat in the refrigerator if you are able to use it within that time frame. If not, you can safely freeze the meat. For best results, you won’t want to leave it in the freezer for an extended time. The salt in the meat will speed the reactions that cause rancidity; use the frozen meat within a month or two. It is not a good idea to buy corned beef on sale after the holiday this year and plan to store it for next year.
Remember that corned beef is a less tender cut of beef. The cooking method should be long, slow, and moist. This means plan on a longer cooking time at a lower temperature (325°F) in a moist environment. Usually you can accomplish this in the oven with a covered pan that has a small layer of liquid in the bottom of the pan. We always recommend using a meat thermometer to determine doneness of the meat. The meat should reach a temperature of 160°F. At that temperature, the meat will be fork tender but will retain a pink color. That color is due to the curing process and the nitrites involved. If you allow the beef to stand for 10 minutes after cooking, it will be easier to slice.
After cooking and enjoying the corned beef, save the leftovers for only 3-5 days in the refrigerator. Remember you can freeze the cooked meat and enjoy it for a longer period. Again, plan to use the frozen meat within several months.
Our oldest son and our daughter in law just had a baby this week! I am so excited to be a grandma and I have already blogged about making homemade baby food for him. One of my gifts to the new parents is to help them fill the freezer with healthy, easy meals that they can use to help make mealtime easier for them. Here are just a few meal suggestions that I am planning on making that will freeze well.
- Sloppy joes. Just heat and put on a bun.
- Soups like chili. Ready to rewarm in a variety of sizes.
- Chicken pot pie. If they are made and frozen individually you can decide how many to get out for dinner.
- Fajita meat and vegetables. All you need to add are the tortillas, and the toppings.
- Pulled pork. Add the BBQ sauce and it will be ready to heat and put on a bun.
- Lasagna. Make it in a small bread pan and it will be the perfect size for a small family.
- Ground beef or sausage cooked that can be added to a jar of tomato sauce for spaghetti.
- Baked ziti or other pasta casseroles. Use a pan that is appropriate for the family size and have them thaw it in the refrigerator the night before you eat it.
- Slices of ham from a spiral ham. Add the number of slices based on the family size.
- Apple crisp. Make a small pan that they can put in the oven to bake while they are eating their dinner. Everyone needs a dessert!
- Cookies. Chocolate chip cookies freeze well in an air tight container and they can take one out whenever they need a sweet treat.
I am using my vacuum sealer to keep the meats air tight so they will last in the freezer for a longer time. If you don’t have one make sure you are using freezer bags or containers and try to get out as much air as possible. This will keep the food from drying out and developing freezer burn. Remember the more layers of protection the better quality the food will be. Think about wrapping foods in cellophane wrap then aluminum foil before you put them in the freezer containers or bags.
Remember to use a permanent marker to write the heating directions and a date on the freezer containers. I am also giving my kids a list of the foods that are in the freezer. They can scratch off the foods when they eat them and they will know what is left in the freezer to eat.
Whether you are making meals for family members or friends that are sick, or after the birth of a child your efforts will be appreciated! If you have any questions on freezing some of your favorite foods give us a call at AnswerLine.
I decided recently to bring my old bread maker out of the basement and begin using it again. I remember how much our family enjoyed the smell of fresh bread baking! Since it has been a little while since I used mine I thought it would be good to review a few tips that I thought were helpful for using the bread machine successfully!
- Review your manufacturer’s instruction on the order to add ingredients. They are in an order for a reason. For example if you place the yeast in direct contact with the salt or sugar it will decrease the activity of the yeast and it won’t rise well.
- When using butter or margarine cut it into small pieces so that it will easily blend in with the other ingredients.
- Make sure that your liquid ingredients are no warmer than 80° F.
- If you are using the bread machine’s delay cycle and you are waiting several hours before you start your bread don’t use a recipe with eggs, milk or other ingredients that need to be refrigerated. Items that are normally refrigerated should be out at room temperature only for a short time since bacteria can grow rapidly when they are about 40° F (refrigerator temperature).
- Be sure to open the lid and check on your dough about 5-10 minutes into the kneading process. If the dough is too dry add additional water (1/2 to 1 Tablespoon at a time) until the dough is elastic and smooth. If a dough is too wet add flour 1 Tablespoon at a time. Only do this during the first knead cycle and never during the rise cycle. Correct measuring is important but there are many variables including humidity that affects dough consistency.
- Using bread flour will give your bread better volume and texture. If you use a whole grain flour you will have a more dense loaf. A combination of the two flours usually works well and gives you a good quality loaf.
- If you add raisins or nuts to your bread try tossing them with a little flour to help them work into your bread more easily. If the machine stops kneading and they are not well mixed remove the dough from the machine and knead them by hand until they are mixed then return the dough to the machine.
I hope if you have a bread machine that you haven’t used in a while that you will get it out and try it again! Your family will enjoy the results and you will be a master baker, loved and admired by your family! If you would like additional information The University of Kentucky Extension has a helpful publication.
You may be surprised to learn just how many calls we get from people who discover some old food in their pantry or freezer. Often times they are cleaning their kitchen, or they may be cleaning out an elderly relative’s pantry. Sometimes they want to eat it themselves or they may want to make a donation to the local food pantry but want to be sure it is still safe to eat. Other people are digging through their freezers and discover a turkey or other cuts of meat that have been in the freezer for a year or longer. We give lots of advice to callers on this topic. We are always happy to assist callers but sometimes you may need to know the answer at a time we are not at work. I discovered this free app from the Food Safety and Inspection Service. You can download it on your smart phone and have the answer to your question immediately. We love to help callers find answers but this app may also be helpful.
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.
- 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 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