Storing chocolate

If your sweetie got you some chocolates for Valentine’s Day, you may be wondering just how long you can safely keep them. I did a little research and discovered that you can store that box of chocolate longer than you may have thought.

Chocolate should be stored at temperatures that are slightly cooler than room temperature. Try to keep them between 60° and 70° Fahrenheit. At these temperatures, they should keep well for at least six months. If you need to store them longer, consider storing in the refrigerator or freezer. Chocolates will keep for a year in the refrigerator and for a year and a half in the freezer.

If your sweetie went all out and bought some handmade or premium chocolates, enjoy them now. These chocolates have a much shorter shelf life and will keep for 2-3 weeks in the refrigerator or for 3-6 months in the freezer.

Chocolates will absorb odors from their surroundings so store them in the box they came in or place the box into a freezer bag and keep it sealed. Enjoy that special treat.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Baking bread

Baking bread is a creative outlet for me and satisfies that “need to bake”.  I started searching for the perfect white bread recipe last November.  I’ve been baking two loaves a week since then.  The first recipe I tried made a loaf that we thought was a bit dry.  I’ve been using this recipe since early December.  I like it and we always get a nice tender, light loaf.  It just takes me a short time to mix up the dough.  Proofing (or letting the bread rise) takes a couple of hours and baking takes about 35 minutes. 

I usually use my bread machine to make the dough for rolls and then take the dough out of the bread machine pan and shape and bake it. I like to use my mixer to knead the bread. Using the mixer for a specific time, 8 minutes for this recipe, ensures a similar result every time.

Of course, not every bread recipe requires kneading.  King Arthur Flour had this recipe as their recipe of the year last year.  My son made some when we were visiting last week and we enjoyed the nick crusty, rustic loaf.  If you want to try something super easy with guaranteed great results, give this recipe a try. This recipe would not be appropriate for a 4-H member to take to the fair if they allow it to raise for more than one day in the refrigerator.  Call AnswerLine if you have any questions about using this recipe.

I love to get some bread started early on a Saturday morning and let it proof while I’m doing laundry and other chores around the house.  This way we have some nice fresh bread to start the week, and a great treat of warm from the oven bread before lunch.  Try some homemade bread this weekend.  Or on a snow day.

 

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Baked Alaska

I recently wrote about cream puffs and how relatively easy they are to make yet look very fancy. Another dessert I think falls into the same category is Baked Alaska. It is really just a dressed-up ice cream cake. It is cake topped with ice cream, covered with meringue, then baked in a hot oven for a few minutes to brown the meringue while leaving the ice cream frozen and firm.

President Thomas Jefferson is reported to have served ice cream wrapped in hot pastry at a White House dinner during his presidency. The early versions are recorded as using a piping hot pastry shell to encase the ice cream while later versions used meringue and browned the dish in the oven or with a chef’s blowtorch.

In 1867, Charles Ranhofer, a French chef at the time at Delmonico’s restaurant in New York, created a cake to celebrate the United States purchase of Alaska from the Russians. He called it an Alaska, Florida to show the contrast between the cold and hot – ice cream and toasted meringue. The original dessert used walnut cake, banana ice cream and meringue. Baked Alaska is still on the menu today at Delmonico’s in New York but has been updated to using walnut cake, apricot jam, banana gelato, and meringue. It still says right on their dessert menu that it was created by Charles Ranhofer in 1867.

You can use basically any cake as a base for Baked Alaska: boxed or homemade, chiffon, pound or even a brownie. Although the traditional shape is a bombe, Betty Crocker has a recipe done in a 9×13 pan that seems like an easy place to start.

If you are making the traditional bombe shape, bake a cake of your choice then top it with softened ice cream you have shaped in a plastic wrap-lined container to match the shape of your cake (typically round). Press the cake and ice cream together and freeze. You can freeze the dessert at this point for a couple days. When you remove this from the freezer, cover the cake and ice cream with a thick layer of meringue making sure it is totally sealed. It is important there are no holes allowing exposure to the cake or ice cream or you will have a melted mess when you get it out of the oven. The meringue is the insulation that protects the ice cream from melting in the oven. Once you have the meringue on, freeze the Baked Alaska for a few hours or overnight before baking. Right before you are ready to serve put the Baked Alaska in a 500 degree oven for 4 or 5 minutes to brown the meringue or use your kitchen blowtorch.

A Baked Alaska is impressive when whole. Very often once you cut the slices to serve, the ice cream and meringue will separate from each other but that does not affect the taste of course.

I am looking forward to making some “fancy” desserts in the near future!

Marcia Steed

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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Cream Puffs

I recently was enjoying a cream puff dessert with my sister and we were talking about how we never make them yet they are so easy and “fancy” and look like you spent a lot more time on them than you actually did.

Puff shells are made from dough called pate a choux. The French “choux” means cabbage. A patissier perfected the pastry dough in the middle of the eighteenth century and created choux buns. Because the buns were the same shape as little cabbages the name stuck.

The dough is easy to make and it’s a great recipe to make ahead, freeze, and bake as needed. You can make the dough, spoon dollops of it onto a baking sheet and freeze unbaked. Once the dollops have frozen individually, wrap them in a plastic bag and put them back in the freezer. You can bake them from the frozen state for about five minutes longer than your recipe calls for. You can also freeze them after baking and cooling then crisp them up in a 300 degree oven for five to eight minutes.

If you are working just a couple days ahead you can store the prepared dough in a pastry bag or zip-lock bag in the refrigerator.

The pate a choux can be used to make several desserts. You can fill the cabbage shaped puffs with whipped cream, pastry cream, or custard. Profiteroles are made from the same dough but are usually frozen and filled with ice cream then drizzled with chocolate sauce. Eclairs are the same dough but stretched out into an elongated shape.

The puffs do not need to be used only as a dessert. They can be used with savory fillings such as chicken salad, hummus, cheese spread, pate, roast beef with sauce, etc. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination.

Cream puff dough requires only four ingredients – water, butter, flour and eggs. The only tips to remember are not to overmix when stirring in the flour and to add the eggs one at a time after you have removed the mixture from the heat, beating after each addition.

Cream puffs are leavened by eggs and steam. If you find your cream puffs have collapsed the most common reason is too little water in the recipe so there was not enough steam created to help the puffs inflate. Opening the oven door during baking and having your oven temperature too low are other causes of cream puffs collapsing.

Once you have removed your cream puffs from the oven, use a serrated knife to carefully split them open and remove any “eggy” filament that is inside using a fork. The puffs should be crisp and hollow.

Unfilled, baked cream puffs can be stored in an airtight container for two days or frozen as I mentioned earlier for longer storage. Filled puffs can be kept in the refrigerator for 3-4 days or frozen for 2-3 months for best quality.

Marcia Steed

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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Rediscovering Sunday Night Suppers

Somehow I missed it!  January is National Sunday Night Supper Month!  Unbeknown to me, the movement began in 2016 as a time to begin Sunday night family meal time.  The second Sunday of January is designated as the Sunday to celebrate it by starting family Sunday night suppers if it is not already part of your family tradition.  Noting that family time on Sunday nights had become a waning tradition, Isabel Laessig, a mother of four, is credited as the founder of the Sunday Supper Movement.  The Sunday Supper Movement’s mission is to “create a better future for families, by partnering with brands and services that help families feel good, eat better and interact with each other.”

family sitting around table

As a kid growing up in a large family, Sunday night supper was always a special time for my family.  We ate together at the table, talked, and after the meal played games or cards; usually we were at home, but at least once a month, we shared this time with either my maternal grandmother or paternal grandparents.  I have no recollection of what we ate as I’m sure it was whatever my mother fixed or warmed up.  The important thing was that we were together after a week of many farm family activities.

With our fast-paced lifestyles and technology changing all aspects of family life and communication, perhaps it is important that we rediscover shared family time with a meal and set aside a month to remind us or get us started.  January may well be a good time for observance, too, as it comes with a “starting a-new” mindset or a time for resolutions to make positive changes.

If having to come up with a family meal at home is overwhelming or an unwanted chore as one wraps up weekend chores and activities and prepares for the week ahead, reduce the pressure by ordering out, have a potluck if extended family is involved, rotate meal responsibilities, make or reheat soup, make a pizza together or bake a frozen one, or simply go with what it is in the refrig.  The Sunday Supper Movement’s website offers a recipe index, cookbooks and reviews, contests and giveaways, and a community section to help anyone get started. The food doesn’t matter as much as the time together as a family and carrying on traditions that we had as kids with our kids and/or grandkids.  Regardless of where or how the meal and time takes place, the best advice is to do it without technology at the table, too.

So gather your family or friends and have a meal together. Savor each other’s company around the supper table. And just maybe, if January (or February since January is nearly past) Sunday night suppers go well, they may become a way of life for your family.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Deicers–helpful or harmful?

“What do you recommend for deicing sidewalks?” was a recent question to AnswerLine.  Most deicing products readily available on the market contain salt compounds known as magnesium chloride (used as a liquid on roads), sodium chloride (table salt), calcium chloride, and potassium chloride (fertilizer). Each winter these materials are applied to sidewalks, driveways, and steps to prevent slipping and falling.  However, they are often applied without regard to the substance, application, or the damage that they may cause to the home, property, environment, pets, and nearby plants.

As for mentioned, deicing products are primarily comprised of salt.  And just like household salt, all salts are not the same.  Salts can cause injury to trees, lawns, and shrubs, corrode metal and concrete, and even do bodily harm to pets and humans.  The most problematic element in any of the deicing products is the chloride; it causes corrosion and is toxic to plants.

The University of Maryland offers some great information on deicers in their help sheet, Melting Ice Safely.  While this is an older publication (1998), there is good information on how deicers work and how to use them effectively and safely.  On the second page of the publication, there is a table comparing the fore-mentioned products along with their effectiveness, corrosiveness, and potential harmfulness to plants. 

A more recent product, calcium magnesium acetate (CMA), contains no chloride and is less damaging to cars, metals, and concrete and less toxic to plants.  It is also said to be biodegradable and pet and wildlife friendly.  It works very much like the traditional ‘chloride’ products to melt ice.  The big downside is the cost.

If you want to avoid deicing products, consider using sand, kitty litter, or chicken grit. While these products won’t melt snow, they will provide traction in slippery spots. Sand and kitty litter are safe for pets and plants and can be swept up when the snow melts. (Chicken grit may be too sharp for the paws of some pets but will not harm plants.)  Boots or shoes traversing any of these products should be removed upon entering a home as they could scratch floors.

Should the landscape fall victim to deicing, a recent article published by Reiman Gardens suggests flushing the area around the plant roots in the spring with water to leech out the salts.

The best advice is to know something about the substance (salts used in the product), consider the application, and then READ AND FOLLOW the manufacturer’s directions for applying the product to minimize damage to property and landscape.  And if possible, apply even less than is recommended.  Deicing products are not meant to replace shoveling or to melt all snow and ice, but to aid in removal efforts to prevent slipping and falling.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Be prepared for a winter storm

As I write this, I’m at home waiting to see if the next big winter storm will hit. Over the years, I’ve learned that as winter approaches I need to check the pantry to make sure I have enough staples to make it through being snowed in for a couple of days. Since I live on a farm, we usually have a freezer (or two) filled with enough beef and pork to provide meals for several months. When the kids lived at home, we always had a big garden and canned and froze a variety of fruits and vegetables. Now that it is just my husband and myself, I always try to have a variety of commercially canned and frozen vegetables and fruits on hand. As long as I keep my flour, sugar, and oil containers reasonably full, I know that I can bake just about anything else we might need. Keeping powdered dry milk on hand also helps me avoid the grocery store when everyone else is rushing in to pick up that loaf of bread and gallon of milk. We don’t really enjoy drinking reconstituted milk, but when you need milk for baking it is great to have some in the house.

We have blogged over the years about keeping a winter kit inside the car with items you may need if you get stuck in the snow. I try to check my kit before Christmas so that I have those things fully stocked when the first big storm hits. We have also blogged about understanding weather terms and just how to prepare your home and pets to stay safe. We are lucky to live in a time when it is so easy to wait out a winter storm and stay safe.

I’m still waiting for those first snow flakes to fall.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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It’s Seed Selection Season

seed catalogs

My mail box was full during the month of December as the mail person stuffed it with the usual mail, holiday greetings, ads, and SEED CATALOGS. While I was too busy then to pay much attention to the seed catalogs, I have been enjoying them since the flurry of the holidays. I love looking through them and time passes too quickly as I study, dream, and plot for spring. We don’t get as many catalogs as we did in by-gone years as many seed companies now put their catalogs online instead of printing and mailing. This is likely due to cost and “greener” living but I love having the catalogs in hand for studying and comparing the different varieties. It’s so easy to mark pages with sticky notes and flip back and forth.

A delicious or beautiful summer garden of vegetables and/or flowers, starts with planning and picking out seeds and plants now. Whether you shop for seeds or plants from a catalog, online, or garden center, it can be an overwhelming task deciding what to plant. Here are a few tips that I use to keep my seed or plant orders manageable and not let my eyes and imagination get bigger than the time and space I have to plant.

It’s not necessary to plant everything from seed. The annual plants in my garden come from a mix of seeds, plants purchased at plant sales and garden centers once spring arrives, and plants shared by friends. The seeds I purchase and start are usually a variety that intrigue me or that I don’t think I will be able to find locally. Many of the seed catalogs also offer plant offerings so if only one or two plants are desired, it might be more economical to purchase the plant than the seed.

Plant what you will eat and/or preserve in the vegetable garden. While I would encourage anyone to broaden their vegetable and fruit palate, planting vegetables and herbs that are not favorites is not in your best interest. Be sure to consider space considerations; some plants like pumpkins and squash require a lot of space. And remember, it doesn’t take too many plants of anything to fill your needs.

Try something new. Each year, we save space to experiment with a new edible or flowering plant or a different variety of something familiar just to broaden our experience, knowledge and palate, if edible.

Include some pollinators. Adding a few beneficial flowers to the vegetable garden will boost your edible yields and may also provide some natural pest control. My personal favorites are zenias as both bees and hummingbirds love them, they are so easy to seed and grow, and they make great cut flowers. The choices in zenia varieties seems to be every expanding, too.

Care for unused seeds. Seed packets may contain more seeds that needed. Most seeds can be stored for one or two years and still produce great results in your garden. The key is to store them properly. Seed Savers Exchange offers some great tips for storing seeds. Another alternative is to share them with friends.

If you would like to receive some seed catalogs or are looking for something specific (organic, heirloom, etc), here are some online sources to help you as well as some other ideas to get you started with your spring planting:

https://www.thespruce.com/free-seed-catalogs-1357756
https://www.betterhensandgardens.com/free-garden-seed-catalogs/?fbclid=IwAR2NzIyXpn25DWw8I5dY-I4IUxgXY3pPfChcEZ3sums-eF1e06cu4JzT2kU
http://www.birdsandblooms.com/gardening/gardening-basics/10-seed-catalogs/?1

Enjoy the season! It will soon be time to start some of those seeds under lights.



Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Stolen Packages

My husband and I recently were in Chicago for several days at our daughter’s house while she was away on a business trip. Sadly, on our watch a thief stole 3 packages that had been delivered to her front porch while we were out to lunch. Luckily she has a security camera so the whole thing was caught on tape which made it easier to submit a police report but the whole experience was very frustrating, maddening and unnerving.

According to an article in Consumer Reports there are some things you can do to lower your risk of being a target. Even though my daughter has a working internet-enabled security camera installed and has a security system to protect the house, it still happened and it can happen to anyone anywhere. The holidays are over for 2018 but you may want to consider being proactive in 2019 to help prevent a theft happening to you or someone you know.

If it is possible, avoid home delivery altogether. If you shop on Amazon they have lockers available in some locations (often a Whole Foods store) where you can have your packages delivered to and you retrieve using a security code for the locker. Amazon also offers a Key Kit that can be used for the delivery person to unlock your home and put your packages inside the door. An Amazon Key app is another alternative that is available for your packages to be put in the trunk of your car. There is a cost for some of those services but if you shop on Amazon a lot and buy a lot of things online it may be worth researching.

UPS recommends sending packages to where you are – not where you are not. Check with the company you work for to see if it is an option to have your packages delivered to you at work. Send to a relative or neighbor who is home during the day. Send to a walk in store and pick it up there if possible. UPS offers               “access points” in some locations which are delis, grocery stores, dry cleaners, florists, etc that allow packages to be dropped off by UPS and picked up by you later. Some UPS stores have mailbox service. UPS also has a service called My Choice that is free and lets you know when your package will be arriving so you can be there to accept it, reroute or reschedule the delivery, or authorize a shipment release.

USPS offers Informed Delivery Manager. It is also free and allows you to track your packages and leave delivery instructions if you are not going to be home.

Some shippers allow a required signature at delivery so if no one is home the delivery service will take it back to it’s facility and try again later or let you come pick it up and sign for it.

Door bell cameras, motion sensors and internet-enabled security cameras have their benefits but the benefit is usually realized after the theft has been committed, which was true in our case.

I sincerely hope you never have any packages stolen but if you do, notify the police immediately and file a report. You can also contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. They are the law enforcement arm of the postal service. You should contact the shipper and delivery service as well as your credit card company and the company you bought the packages from to see if you can get reimbursed or have a new package sent. We were, thankfully, able to get all three packages we had stolen replaced at no charge.

Marcia Steed

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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Planning a 4-H exhibit wisely

It hardly seems possible, but we are beginning to get calls and emails from 4-H members about projects for county fair. Many members are planning food preservation projects for the fair. This is a great time of year to preserve food, especially canned foods. Many members choose to can jams or jellies, vegetables, fruit, and even meat.

Home food preservation has some stricter rules than other food products that you may want to exhibit. ALL home food preservation exhibits must be made using research based information. This includes the USDA canning guide, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach publications (Preserve the Taste of Summer), anything from the University of Georgia’s National Center for Home Food Preservation or their So Easy to Preserve book, a recent Ball Blue Book (or anything on their website). Additionally, the printed directions in a pectin package or Mrs. Wage’s products may be used. We do not consider old family recipes to be research based, nor recipes from the neighbor, church cookbooks, or Better Homes and Gardens or random websites.

It is important to remember that Pinterest by itself is not a resource. Pinterest is more like an index. Each Pinterest post connects to a website. If you follow the post back to the webpage, that would be your resource.

If you decide to prepare a baked product, the recipe does NOT need to be listed in an approved resource or research based. Cookbooks are great resources for recipes as the recipes listed in them have been tested to ensure the product turns out as expected. Recipes from random websites likely were not been tested and you may not end up with the product you expect. That does not mean you are not allowed to use these recipes, but you may wind up wasting time and ingredients.

There are some limits on what baked or cooked foods can be safely exhibited at a fair. We have a resource to help members know what products can be exhibited and what products may need to be prepared at home and photographed for entry to the fair. In the case of a food requiring refrigeration, like a pumpkin pie, it is fine to bake and taste at home. Bring only the write up and pictures. Since the judge will not see the pie, remember to make a very thorough write-up to take to the fair. This method works as long as the product is considered safe to eat normally. Making an unsafe product, such as using a water bath canner instead of a pressure canner for green beans can neither be exhibited at the fair nor exhibited through the use or a write-up with pictures.

Reports or posters on nutrition or the effects of a certain vitamin or mineral do need to use research-based information. It is important to provide accurate information when reporting to the public. Members will want to use the same effort to report on a nutrition topic as they would when writing a report for school.

This is only a short list of the mistakes it is easy for members to make when planning an exhibit for their County Fair. Remember that AnswerLine is only a phone call (1-800-262-3804) or email (answer@iastate.edu) away. Contact us, we love to help.

 

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

More Posts - Website

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