Have a safe Thanksgiving

Now that thanksgiving is nearly here, there are a few things that we need to keep in mind. Sometimes with all the family present and the confusion of so many people working in the kitchen it can be easy to lose track of time and allow food to sit out longer than two hours.

Remember that food should be refrigerated as soon as possible after the meal is served. Ideally, we want food to be either hot (above 140°F) or cold (below 40°F) within two hours of being served. Set a timer or an alert on your phone or watch to help you remember. The concern is that bacteria, which grow exponentially at temperatures between 40°F and 140°F, will grow to a level that may sicken someone that eats that food. Bacteria love the foods that we typically serve at thanksgiving.

It is important to understand that the first people that get sick from food poisoning will be the very young, the elderly, people with compromised immune systems, and pregnant women. In most of our families, those people are pretty special to us.

Now that you are thinking about refrigerating the food to keep it safe, follow these simple tips.

    • Don’t be tempted to store the food outside or in the garage. Even on days below zero, a sunny day can warm the food to unsafe levels
    • If you are afraid to put warm food directly into the refrigerator, cool it in a pan sitting in a sink full of cold water. Stir the pot occasionally. You will be surprised at how quickly foods cool off.
    • Package the food into smaller containers. Small containers cool quickly. Place the containers on different shelves and allow as much room as possible for air circulation around the containers.
    • Consider freezing some of your leftovers if you won’t be able to use them within 5 days. Remember that you have 3-5 days to use up leftovers. If you wait 3 or 4 days before you freeze the leftovers, then you will need to use them the same day you thaw the leftovers.

Remember to enjoy this time with family and friends and have a safe thanksgiving.

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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Thanksgiving Cooking Tips

I recently wrote a post on things you can do ahead of time to help make Thanksgiving a little more stress-free. As the holiday approaches ever closer, I thought it would be a good time to refresh our memories on the actual cooking of the turkey and a couple of traditional side dishes.

AnswerLine recommends cooking your fresh or thawed turkey at 325 degrees for 12 minutes per pound. When using your meat thermometer it should register 180 degrees in the thickest part of the thigh and 165 degrees in the breast or stuffing. You will also want to allow a 20-30 minute rest time before serving.

If you have purchased a frozen turkey, you will want to thaw it for 24 hours for every 4-5 pounds of turkey. Thaw it in the refrigerator in it’s packaging until the night before you are going to cook it then place it uncovered on a large roasting pan overnight in the refrigerator to dehydrate the skin. You can massage the skin with softened butter right before cooking.

You should plan on 1 to 1 and 1/2 pounds of turkey per person which would include seconds and leftovers. A twelve pound or larger turkey is recommended as smaller turkeys usually have less meat on the bone.

When deciding which type of potato is best for your mashed potatoes here is a quick guide:

For fluffy mashed potatoes, starchy russets work best. For chunky mashed potatoes, waxy red bliss potatoes work best. For creamy mashed potatoes, Yukon Golds work well. It is not a good idea to mix the different types of potatoes as they cook at different rates. To cook the potatoes begin by cutting them into 1 inch chunks and cover them with cold salted water. Bring them to a boil then lower the heat and simmer uncovered about 20 minutes. When you are ready to mash the potatoes, a ricer or potato masher work best. Blenders, handheld mixers, and food processors tend to overwork the potatoes which causes more starch to be released which results in more gluey mashed potatoes.

To make gravy, melt 1/2 cup butter, stir in 1/2 cup flour to make a roux then add 8 cups of a combination of drippings and broth. You can pour the drippings into a liquid measuring cup and once the fat floats to the top you can spoon it off.

A basic cranberry sauce can be made by adding 2 Tablespoons of water and 1 cup of sugar to a 12 ounce bag of cranberries. Cook over low heat until the berries pop – about 10-20 minutes. This will keep in the refrigerator about 1 week.

AnswerLine will be answering calls from 9:00-4:00 (even over the lunch hour) the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Please call us with any questions you might have! We love to talk with you and help in any way we can!


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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Storing clothing

Now that the weather has changed it is time to store all the spring and summer clothing away and make room for the warm winter clothing. It can be tempting to pack things away without examining them for stains. Sometimes we don’t notice a stain on a piece of clothing but when we get the clothing out of storage, the stains are very noticeable and sometimes hard to remove. These stains can be caused by sugary foods or even perspiration that was not removed before storing the garment.

It would be best to launder or dry clean all the summer clothing and store it in a way that will keep it clean and free of pests until it is needed again. Be sure that clothing is completely dry before storing as your clothing might develop mildew if stored damp. Large plastic tubs with tight fitting lids work well to keep dust out of clothing. Additionally, it will keep out insects like Asian lady beetles and prevent mice from making a nest in your favorite outfit. If a tub has clear sides, it is easier to know what is in the container. Better or more formal items can be stored on hangers.  Allow enough room between hangers that new wrinkles are not pressed into the garment.

Cleaning these summer items doesn’t need to be a huge project. You can keep a large plastic bin near where you do laundry and add a few summer items to each load of laundry you do for the next several weeks. Simply fold and place the dry clean clothing into the bin as you do your regular laundry.

When the seasons change again, you can remove the summer things and begin cleaning and storing the winter clothes. Be sure that all your sweaters and other woolen items are clean and stored in an air tight container. That will prevent damage from clothing moths. It is so discouraging to find a hole in one of your favorite sweaters when it can be prevented so easily. If you would like more information on clothing moths, Iowa State University has an interesting article. Moth balls or granules are no longer recommended for storing woolens, they can be caustic and irritating and difficult to remove the odor when you take the clothing out of storage.

I’m still in the process of getting all our summer clothing stored; when I’m done I will be glad to have more room in my closet.



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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Countdown to Thanksgiving

It is nearly November as I am writing this and I know many of you are already thinking ahead to hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year. Although there are some things that absolutely must be done near or on the day, there are many other things that can be done ahead of time to help you enjoy a less-stressed Thanksgiving.

Now would be a good time to shop for any specialty tools you might need. There may be things you needed last year you didn’t have that you could purchase now. Or maybe you want to upgrade some current tools to help ease the cooking process.

It is not too early to plan your menu so you can create a shopping list. You can also order your turkey now. Allow one to one and one half pounds of turkey per person for seconds and leftovers. Remember, if you order a fresh turkey you need to pick it up only 1-2 days before you are going to use it.

It is a good time to clean out your freezer and begin making and freezing some items. You can pour your cold pumpkin pie filling into a chilled unbaked pie shell and freeze it. Bake it unthawed at 400 degrees for 10 minutes then at 325 degrees to finish it. You can also make and freeze homemade stock for your gravy. Rolls freeze well either baked or unbaked. Fresh cranberries can be frozen up to a year.

You can take inventory of tableware, tablecloths and napkins in case you need to pick up anything extra. Fluffing the tablecloth in the dryer or ironing it now and laying it out on an unused guest bed will save time as the holiday gathering draws near. Planning your centerpiece/decorations and making sure you have everything needed will ease your stress level.

Shopping for non-perishable items can be done now. You could also make sure you have containers and/or bags ready for leftovers for guests.

Thanksgiving will be here before we know it. Hopefully we can all enjoy a low stress holiday!


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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Preventing Unwanted House Mouse Guests

Cool, fall weather has arrived and along with leaves and nippy mornings, bugs and rodents are scurrying to find warmer quarters.  Often times, those warmer quarters are in the home.  Of these invaders, the common or European house mouse is one of the most troublesome and definitely an unwanted house guest.

Droppings, fresh gnawing, and tracks are usually the first signs of mouse activity.  Other signs might include nests made from shredded paper or other fibrous material and their characteristic musky odor.  They are most active at night but it is not uncommon for them to be seen during the day, too.  Common locations for these critters are under the sink, in cabinets or drawers, on the counter, and under furniture with their trails usually running along the baseboards.

These little critters require minimal space to invade a home.  Mice can squeeze through openings slightly larger than ¼ inch, just enough space to get their whiskers and head through.  They are excellent climbers and can run up any rough vertical surface.  They are also “tight rope artists” in that can run horizontally along very thin wires, cables, or ropes.  According to Dennis Ferraro, Nebraska Extension Wildlife Specialist, mice can jump straight up two and half feet and across three feet or drop vertically eight feet and keep running at a speed of six miles per hour.

Further, mice have a tremendous reproductive capacity.  In a year’s time, a female may have five to ten litters of usually five to six young born 19-21 days after mating.  Mice reach reproductive maturity in six to ten weeks.  The life span of a mouse is usually nine months to one year.

So with these facts in mind, prevention is key and involves three components—mouse-proof construction, good sanitation or removal of sources of food and water, and population reduction.

Mouse-proof construction.  The most successful and permanent form of house mouse control is to prevent them from entering in the first place by eliminating all openings through which they can enter.  Conduct a thorough inspection of your home—inside and out.  Look for gaps in siding where the siding meets the foundation or where pipes and other utilities enter.  Cracks in foundations and loose-fitting doors without proper weather stripping are other obvious places where mice can get in.  Since mice are good climbers, don’t forget to check openings around the roof, including attic vents.  Use rodent-proof materials to close all openings such as steel wool, hardware cloth, galvanized sheet metal or metal flashing, cement mortar, caulking, and spray foam insulation or combinations of these materials.  For how-to-do details, see Rodent-Proof Construction and Exclusion Methods prepared by Cornell, Clemson, UNL, and Utah State Universities.

Sanitation.  Eliminating their food and water source is critical to controlling them.  Mice are opportunistic feeders that will eat any food discarded by humans.  Therefore, clean up spilled food or remove open food in cupboards, drawers, counter tops, and floors under stoves, refrigerators, and dishwashers.  Place all accessible food in mouse-proof containers such as glass or store in the refrigerator or freezer.  Store pet and bird food in sealed containers.  Keep cabbage can lids tightly sealed.  Remove pet food and water dishes when not in use and do not leave a glass of water or dirty dishes sitting in the sink.

Outdoors, remove clutter and debris from the perimeter of the house.  Keep grass, shrubs, and other vegetation trimmed around the house.  Remove any container that could hold water.

Population reduction. Population reduction can be done through a combination of rodenticides, trapping, or by professional extermination.  Spring traps are the preferred method; baiting with peanut butter usually works well as long as you put the bait far enough in that the mouse has to work for it.  Baits or poisons used indoors should be avoided if possible.  Often pets and children are unintended victims of baits and poisons.  And mice usually die in the walls or some other hard-to-get-at location where they discompose for a month emitting a foul smell, shedding bacteria, and attracting maggots. Should you need to clean up after a mouse infestation, follow these tips.

A few steps now can prevent those troublesome and unwanted house mice from becoming your guests!



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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Pumpkin Pie!

Thanksgiving is just around the corner and for my family that means enjoying pumpkin pie. If you are planning to do some preparation ahead of time you can pour your cold pumpkin pie filling into a chilled unbaked pie shell and freeze it. When you are ready to bake the pie you can bake it without thawing at 400 degrees for 10 minutes then reduce the heat to 325 degrees to finish it.

You can also freeze baked pumpkin pie. Best quality will be maintained for 1-2 months. Make sure to wrap the pie tightly with aluminum foil or plastic freezer wrap or place it in a heavy-duty freezer bag. The texture may change somewhat when the pie is thawed but the taste should not be affected.

If you find yourself without any pumpkin pie filling on hand when you are ready to bake your pie but you have regular solid canned pumpkin you can make that work. For 30 ounces of pumpkin pie filling, open two 15 ounce cans of pumpkin and take out 1 and 1/3 cups (save that for another use). To the remaining pumpkin add 1/3 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ginger, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon cloves and 1 teaspoon salt.

If you are without pumpkin pie spice, you can easily make your own as well. For each teaspoon needed of pumpkin pie spice, mix together 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice and 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg. Betty Crocker has a similar DIY pumpkin spice that makes a larger amount you can have on hand for your Fall baking: Mix together 3 Tablespoons ground cinnamon, 2 teaspoons ground ginger, 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg, 1 and 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice and 1 and 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves.

Pumpkin pies can be stored loosely covered in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. Pumpkin pies should not be left at room temperature for more than 2 hours. Bacteria grow rapidly at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees.

I hope you enjoy baking with some pumpkin during this Fall season!

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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Making Scones

One of my favorite things to make are scones. I like to make them enough that I have even purchased an official scone pan that makes 16 small scones from one batch. The scone pan is not necessary but it makes all of the scones the same shape and size so I look like a professional even though I am not! I have experimented making many different kinds including orange, vanilla, chocolate chip and lemon but my favorite one is a mixed berry scone that I found when looking at recipes on the internet. Through trial and error, I know that adding sour cream to a recipe makes them extra moist and delicious so I like to add some to all of the recipes I try. I know that the dough will be very crumbly and that if I over mix it will cause them to be tough. I thought I would share with you some of the techniques so you can try making some at your house.




First measure your dry ingredients into a bowl. This includes flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.


Grate butter into the flour mixture and blend into flour with your fingers.  Be sure that your butter is very cold!

Grating the butter makes it blend into the four much easier than cutting it into small pieces.

Mix wet ingredients together in another bowl. This includes milk, sour cream, egg and vanilla.  Add the liquid ingredients and the frozen berries (I used frozen blueberries, raspberries and blackberries). Don’t let the berries thaw or they will color the dough and you will not have any whole fruit pieces in your baked scone.

Mix until just combined. Do not overmix or the scone will be tough.

Shape into a square on a floured cutting board. I then cut it into 16 pieces (four squares with four triangle shapes).  If you wanted larger scones you could cut them into 8 instead of 16.

After putting the pieces in the pan I sprinkle with a course sugar before baking.

Bake at 400° F. for about 18 minutes until the scones are just starting to turn light brown. I cook mine in my convection oven at 375° F. for approximately 15 minutes.

If using a pan, allow to cool for 10 minutes then remove from pan and place on a cooking rack.

Making scones is easy and fun!  Try it out for yourself!






Beth Marrs

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Adult Home Economics Education. I love to cook and entertain and spend time with my family.

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I was at the grocery store yesterday looking at peppers when the lady next to me asked if I knew there were male and female peppers. She had learned it on Facebook! I have been a home economist for many years and had never learned that to be true. She went on to tell me that the peppers with three bumps or lobes on the bottom were male and were best for cooking. The ones with four bumps on the bottom were female and were best for eating raw. I did not want to argue with her on the spot but I went straight home and went to the research based sites I use online to confirm that the bumps had nothing to do with the peppers being male or female. It is indeed a garden myth but one that does circulate periodically on social media. How many bumps a pepper has on the bottom is primarily related to the variety and growing conditions.

Bell peppers grow from flowers possessing both male and female parts. They do not have a gender.

The number of lobes on a pepper also has nothing to do with taste. Sweetness is usually a factor of ripeness. Bell shaped peppers in their immature state are green with a slightly bitter flavor. As they mature they turn bright red and become sweeter. There are also yellow, orange, white, pink, and purple varieties of peppers.

The heat of a pepper is measured in Scoville units. Bell peppers have a Scoville heat unit of 0 while habanero peppers have a Scoville heat unit of 100,000 to 350,000. To remove some of the heat from peppers you can remove the seeds and interior ribs before cooking.

Peppers add flavor and color to so many dishes and are also great for snacking.


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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Freezing Summer Produce

Many people, including me, enjoy freezing produce at it’s peak quality to use throughout the Winter months. In order to keep the highest quality for the longest period of time there are a few things to keep in mind.

First is to make sure your freezer is set at 0 degrees F. Warmer temperatures will keep food frozen and stop the growth of microorganisms but quality will be lost more quickly resulting in a shorter retention time.

The second thing to keep in mind is to blanch foods when recommended. Blanching inactivates enzymes. Always blanch for the appropriate time and make sure blanched foods are cooled down completely before putting them in freezer containers or bags. Do not allow moisture to form on the lid or sides of a package from hot steam. This will help promote quick freezing once inside the freezer.

Fast freezing is the third thing to keep in mind when freezing foods. The faster water in food gets frozen, the more protective for quality. It is helpful to use small package sizes and spread the packages out in the freezer until the food is frozen. If you know you are going to be freezing a large quantity of food at one time you may want to turn your freezer temperature down a couple days ahead of time. Fast freezing will help preserve your food’s quality and promote energy efficiency as well.

Freezing food is a quick way to preserve the nutrients, color, and taste in your Summer produce.


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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