Pie Baking – Fill ‘Er Up!

Pie has been a proverbial favorite beginning with the ancient Egyptians according to the American Pie Council.  Despite its long history, pie baking has been held in such awe that the process has become intimidating for some.  To help quell the anxiety, I’ve written two previous blogs on pie baking with tips from my mother-in-law who needed no reason to bake a pie and did it as casually as putting on socks. 

In the previous two Pie Baking blogs, tips on ingredients and equipment and making a pastry crust have been shared.  Now it’s time to fill that crust.  With a pastry crust, there are generally two options—single- or double-crust.  A single crust is just that, the pastry lines a pie plate to form the shell for the filling with the top open. (Sometimes, a single crust can also just be a top crust covering the filling underneath it.)  The double crust begins as a single crust with the additional steps of topping it with a second crust, lattice, or shingled cutouts after filling (usually with fruit) and sealing the two crusts together.  Either of them are a blank canvas just waiting to be filled with goodness! 

The Not So Lonely Single Crust

The ways that a single crust can be filled is unlimited.  Depending upon the desired filling, the crust is perfect for baked and unbaked fillings giving one the ultimate choices of cream pies, custard pies, baked fruit pies with or without crumble toppings, jelled no-bake fruit pies, cookie pies, and quiche.  If the single crust is to be filled with a cream filling—coconut, banana, chocolate, lemon, peanut butter, etc—a jelled fruit filling—fresh strawberry or peach, etc—or a precooked fruit filling, the crust must be first blind baked. 

Blind baking is baking without filling to ensure a crisp, thoroughly baked, crust ready to fill with a filling that is not baked.  After the dough is fitted and formed in the pan, the crust should be pricked (also called docking) with a fork.  Secondly, the crust is lined with parchment paper and weighed down.  As the pie dough bakes, the fat melts creating steam.  Steam creates the flaky layers, but without the pricking and weighing down, the pie crust shrinks down the sides of the pie plate and the dough puffs up.  Special purchased pie weights, dry beans or rice, and even granulated sugar can be used for weighing down.  Fill the crust to the brim with whatever weight is used.  Place the crust in a preheated 375֯F oven for about 20 minutes or until the edge is dry to the touch and light brown.  Remove the weight and parchment paper and bake 8 to 10 minutes longer until the bottom of the crust is a light brown and dry to the touch.

Once the crust has cooled thoroughly, it is time to add any favorite cream (instant or cooked), jelled fresh fruit, or pre-cooked fruit filling.  If a cooked cream filling is to have a meringue topping, the meringue is added while the filling is still warm as the warm filling helps seal the two layers together, preventing separation.  The pie is placed in the oven to bake until the meringue is browned on top.  Cream pies should be allowed to cool at room temperature for 1 hour and then placed in the refrigerator to chill for at least 4 hours before slicing and serving.  Instant cream and jelled fresh fruit pies should be refrigerated immediately after preparation and also chilled for 4 hours before slicing and serving.

Recipes differ on quiche or custard fillings such as pumpkin, classic or fruit custard, chess, pecan, and sour-cream raisin as to whether the crust should be blind baked before filling and baking or simply filled and baked.  The blind baking helps to prevent a soggy crust.  Some recipes will also have one brush the bottom of the crust with a beaten egg yolk and bake for 3 minutes to glaze the bottom to seal the crust.

One-crust baked fruit pies are always a family favorite.  They often are topped with a crumb topping made from a variety of ingredients.  The crumb topping is spread or sprinkled over the fruit filling before baking. 

Devine Goodness between the Layers – Double Crust Pies

If there is ever a mental picture of an American pie, it has to be the classic double crust pie with juicy fruit oozing from a slice.  Double crust pies are typically filled with fruit, but can be savory or meat-filled, too.  Typically, the second crust is a lid-like covering over the filling.  However, the top crust need not be boring; a quick peak at a Taste of Home pie feature shows multiple, creative pie toppers.

When using fruit as the main ingredient of a double-crust pie, it is important to note that fruit can be a tricky or fickle ingredient whether it is fresh or frozen fruit.  The most beautifully crafted pie using a tested recipe can result in a pie swimming in juice when sliced for serving.  Apple pie would be an exception as apples have enough pectin to hold together well.  The juiciness is all about the ripeness of the fruit and the amount of juice the fruit contains.  Further, if frozen fruit is used, water is released when it is thawed.  Thickeners such as flour, cornstarch, or tapioca are commonly used to shore up fruit liquid but sometimes the amount suggested in a recipe just isn’t enough.  So how does one get it right?

One of the best ways is to macerate the fruit by gently mixing the fruit with the sugar called for in the recipe letting it stand for 20-30 minutes.  While applying gentle pressure to the fruit, strain the juices away from the fruit.  Bring the juice to a boil and then simmer until the juice is reduced to about 1/3.  Combine a small amount of the juice with the thickening agent (cornstarch, flour, tapioca) and whisk into a slurry.  Return the slurry to the remaining juice and add the fresh fruit.  Cool to room temperature before filling the crust. During the baking, the fruit will thicken.

For frozen fruit, the process is much the same.  Thaw the fruit and strain off the liquid pressing the fruit gently.  Simmer the juice to about 1/3.  Mix the sugar and thickening agent together; add to the juice and whisk into a slurry.  Stir in the fruit and cool to room temperature before adding to the crust.  The thickening agent will do its work while baking to thicken the pie.

To bake the pie, preheat the oven to 425֯F.  Place the pie in the lower third of the oven for 15 minutes.  The high temperature and lower rack position kick start the baking of the pie shell to prevent a soggy bottom.  For phase two, place a cookie sheet or liner under the pie and move it to the middle of the oven reducing the temperature to 350-375֯F baking for the time specified in the recipe.  Since individual ovens vary, it is important to stay with your pie through the baking process peeking at it through a window now and again.  If the oven has hot spots, it may be necessary to rotate it if the oven.  Sometimes the edges brown too quickly and covering with a pie ring or foil strips to prevent overbrowning is necessary.  If the top is browning too quickly and the fruit is not yet done, tent the whole pie with foil.  The pie is done with the crust is a lovely golden brown and the fruit is bubbling with clear juices.

Writing these blogs has been a little bit of a trip down memory lane as my mentor is no longer able to make pie and sadly has no memory of her craft. I hope I have inspired you to gather a few simple ingredients, throw down some flour, pick up a rolling pin, and make pie your new game or up your pie game. It really is that simple!

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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Pie Baking – Crust Perfection

As mentioned in the first of the Pie Baking series, late fall seems to bring out the pie baking instinct in many.  In the first blog of the series, I shared the “basic three” ingredients and equipment needed to form the foundation of the pie, the pie crust.  In this blog, the second of the series, I’ll continue with tips from my mother-in-law on making the crust.   Aprons on, let’s get to mixing, rolling, and forming!

On to Pie Crust Perfection!

Temperature – Keep It Cold.  It is most important that the fat and water be cold.  Butter and shortening can be used right out of the refrigerator.  Other fats should be chilled for at least 15 minutes before using.  Add ice cubes to water to get it as cold as possible but do not mix ice cubes into your dough. (Some like to put the flour, bowl, and rolling pin in the fridge or freezer to get them cold, too.)

Mixing the Dough – Less is More – It’s All in the Feel.  Put the solid fat into the dry ingredients in chunks. Use your fingers (not hands) to press the fat into the dry ingredients so that the small fat pieces are flattened and well incorporated into the flour. Once the fat and dry ingredients are combined, gradually add ice water in small amounts to just moisten the flour with your fingers. Once the dough appears “shaggy” (holds together when squeezed but not sticky or crumbly), form into a disc (a slightly flattened ball) or divide the dough if the recipe is for more than one crust and form discs. A disc may be used right away or wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for 30 minutes. Letting the dough rest allows the gluten to relax and gives the flour time to absorb the water evenly usually making it easier to handle. (If refrigerated for longer than 30 minutes, a brief warm up period may be needed before rolling out the dough.)  When making a double crust pie, chilling one round while rolling out the other is always a good option. (A pastry blend, mixer, or food processor can be used to mix the dough, too.)

Rolling Out the Dough – Work Quickly to Keep Dough from Getting Warm. Always roll out dough on a lightly floured, clean surface.  Wax paper or parchment paper are options but tend to slide around. A chilled surface is ideal for those that have them. Starting with a disc, use steady pressure on the rolling pin, rolling from the center outward.  To maintain a circular shape, rotate the dough a quarter turn and repeat or rotate the rolling direction.  If the dough sticks to the surface, throw a little flour under the dough and keep going until the desired shape, size (1-2 inches larger than the pie plate) and thickness (1/8th-1/16th-inch) are reached.

Moving the Dough to the Pie Plate – Easy Does It.  Getting the rolled dough into the pie plate can be done by any method that works for you. Some options:  1) Carefully fold the dough in half (or fourths), pick up and lay into the pie pan and unfold. 2) If rolled on waxed or parchment paper, place the pie plate upside down centered on the dough circle; place hand carefully under the paper, turn dough and pie pan right side up letting the dough sag into the pie plate as the paper is gently removed. 3) Roll dough around a floured rolling pin and unroll over the pie plate.  Being careful not to stretch the dough, allow the dough to settle into the pie plate by gently pressing into place.  If it cracks or tears, gently pat back together. (A fingertip of water also acts as glue to mending cracks and tears.)

Finishing the Crust – Making It Pretty.  For a single crust pie, trim the overhanging dough to about one inch from the edge all the way.  Turn the cut edge under to form a thick lip resting on the pie plate rim. For a double crust pie, fit the bottom crust into the pie pan leaving the overhanging dough in place.  Add the filling. Lay the top crust over the filling. Trim both top and bottom overhang together to about one inch, then tuck the overhang underneath itself so the folded edge lays on the edge of the pan. Add a decorative edge of choice. For ideas check out the YouTube video, 20 Creative Pie Crimping Techniques in 120 Seconds.

A lattice top is a third option but takes a little more time and patience. Lattice top pies are created by cutting the top crust into strips before moving it to the pie, then weaving the pieces under and over across the top of the pie. Finish the edges like a double crust pie.  Another option is to shingle the top of the pie by cutting shapes (hearts, rounds, diamonds, etc) from the top crust dough with a cookie cutter and placing the shapes on top of the pie filling so they overlap slightly like shingles.

Finally to give any double, lattice, or shingled crust a glossy, golden, sparkling finish, brush the top with an egg-, milk-, or cream-wash and sprinkle with granulated, decorator, or flavored sugar.

Vent – Let the Steam Out.  Double crust pies need vents or small slices through the top crust to allow water vapor to escape. These can be cut before placing the top crust on the pie or after.  A small cookie cutter can be used to create decorative vents before topping the pie. Lattice pies have built in vents.

If visuals are helpful in making a crust, check out Episode 1 of Iowa’s well known pie author and Pie Lady, Beth M Howard. Ms Howard offers a free YouTube series of pie lessons, Stay Calm and Bake Pie.  In the episode, Ms Howard demonstrates how to make a crust for a double crust pie in nearly the same relaxed, casual fashion I remember my mother-in-law making her crusts. 

The Pie Baking series will continue with filling the pie in a third blog.

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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Pie Baking – Simple Ingredients and Equipment

Who doesn’t love a piece of pie?  Pie has been a proverbial favorite beginning with the ancient Egyptians according to the American Pie Council. The history of pie is quite fascinating and while I love to share the history of food, I will reserve pie history for another time—perhaps National Pie Days (December 1 and January 23 not be confused with Pi Day, March 14).  Pie is such an act of love that I think it should be celebrated whenever one is given the chance to enjoy a piece.

 While there is not a designated time to bake a pie, late fall seems to bring out the pie baking instinct in many.  Perhaps it is the combination of bumper crops from our gardens and fruit trees with the anticipated holiday season and cooler weather enticing one to turn on the oven that brings on the urge to tie on those apron strings and get baking.  I’ve felt it myself.

I’m hardly an expert when it comes to pie baking.  There are countless books, articles, and videos written by real experts on how to bake the perfect pie providing endless tips and recipes each offering their own ‘how to’.  While all of the information is helpful, some may still find pie baking intimidating. Sometimes the best teacher is that person in your life who truly loves to bake pie; for me, that would be my mother-in-law who in her younger days needed no occasion or excuse to bake at least one pie ‘just because’ as any day was a pie day. Needless to say, I learned a lot from watching her nonchalant approach to making pie.

Making pie is easy and need not be intimidating. Using tips from my mother-in-law, let’s get into the art of pie baking beginning with the ingredients and equipment needed for the foundation, the pie crust.

3 Basic Ingredients and Simple Equipment

Pie crust starts with three basic ingredients—flour, fat, and water.  Some recipes will add salt, sugar, eggs, milk, vinegar, leavening and other ingredients which can enhance a pie crust, but the ‘basic three’ are the only ones necessary. The recipe is as easy as 3-2-1–3 parts flour, 2 parts fat, 1 part cold water.  Here’s a brief description of how they work together to create pastry.

  • Flour.  All-purpose flour is all that is necessary; it has the perfect amount of gluten (11% protein) to provide structure yet create a tender, flaky crust.  Protein content is directly related to the gluten structure; the higher the protein, the stronger and faster the gluten structure forms as the dough is worked. Cake flour has too little gluten and bread flour has too much.  Unbleached flour is slightly better for pie crust than bleached but either will do. Pastry flour is another option but all-purpose is sufficient and readily available.
  • Fat.  Lard, butter, shortening, vegetable oil, or some combination are fat options.  Everyone has their favorite.  Fat has a dual purpose:  1) it coats the flour particles to prevent excessive gluten formation; 2) during baking, the pea-size fat pieces melt releasing steam which lifts the pockets to create a flaky, tender layers. Solid fats result in a flakier crust than melted or liquid fats.  Chilled fats provide the best results.
  • Water.  Think of water as the glue that holds the flour and fat together. Always start with small amounts and gradually add more as needed to just moisten the flour. Like fat, liquids should be ice cold.  If water is not used, milk (regular, evaporated, or reconstituted dry milk), egg, vinegar, or combinations are other liquid alternatives.

The equipment needed to make a pie crust is also quite basic–bowl, measuring cups, rolling pin, hard surface, pie plate and knife or scissors. However, one can upgrade from the basics as much as desired by adding a pastry blender, mixer, food processor, fancy rolling pins, pastry clothes, dough scrapers, pastry wheels, and metal pie crust shields to name a few. In all humbleness, a suburb pie crust can be made with the basic three ingredients using a bowl and fingers. A rolling pin is necessary to flatten the dough but wine bottles have been used in a pinch. There are many kinds of pie plates and any of them will work. Of all, the simple clear glass pan is probably the best choice. Glass pans produce wonderfully brown, crisp crusts that are usually not soggy on the bottom. (It may be necessary to reduce the baking time or oven temperature with a glass pan.) No matter the material of the pie pan, it is more than possible to bake a great pie in it with a little practice and possible tweaking of time and/or temperature as each material is different. The disposable aluminum pans create the most challenge to even baking, but many have mastered that challenge with admirable results–beautiful golden-brown, fully cooked, no-soggy-bottom pies.

I will continue with pie baking in follow up blogs.  Next up, tips or keys to pie crust perfection!

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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A Look at Electric Casseroles

What are electric casseroles? How should they be used?  

Taco Casserole made in a slow cooker casserole.

Electric casseroles are 9×13-in, rectangular crockery slow cookers. Known as casserole cookers or slow cooker casseroles, they work like a slow cooker but are ideal for preparing favorite casserole dishes, lasagna, desserts and more that one would ordinarily bake in the oven because they do not present well when made in a traditional slow cooker.  Like a slow cooker, they are ideal for make-ahead meals to simplify mealtime for busy families.

There are at least two manufacturers that make casseroles cookers—Crock-Pot® and Chefman.  Hamilton Beach also offered one but it appears to no longer be available.  These appliances have a 3.5 quart, stoneware, oven-safe, crock insert that is removable for easy cleaning or for actually baking in the oven.  All of the models come with a locking lid system for easy transport without spills making them safe and ideal for carry-in or potluck meals.  Like a slow cooker, they reduce heat in the kitchen and free up oven space when the kitchen is on overload.  Crock-Pot® offers both a manual setting (high, low, warm) unit as well as a programmable unit; the Chefman appliance offers only manual features. The stoneware crocks are dishwasher-safe making cleanup a breeze.

Should one need to put the removable insert into the oven for baking, reheating, melting toppings or browning, Crock Pot® asserts that the crockery insert can be used safely in the microwave or the oven up to 400ºF without the lid. The Chefman website says the crock insert can be used over an open flame on the stovetop to simmer sauce, sauté vegetables, or brown meat before slow cooking for greater depth of flavor. It can also be used in an oven to roast, bake, or reheat.

Any recipe that one would make in a traditional slow cooker will work in the casserole cookers.  Also any casserole recipe designed for the oven will work as long as additional time is allowed for cooking.  For the most part, the cooking time required of a traditional slow cooker is the same for the casserole cooker.  However, timing may vary some depending upon manufacturers and different appliances.

Here’s some ideas to get one thinking about how to use a slow cooker casserole:  corn casserole, baked beans, scalloped potatoes and ham, funeral potatoes, spaghetti and meat balls, beef and noodles, enchiladas, tater tot casserole, bbq chicken, apple or fruit crisps, lasagna, French toast casserole, egg bake, vegetable gratins, and green bean casserole.  Cookies can even be baked in the crocks.  There are any number of slow cooker recipe books available—a cookbook for everyone, every cuisine, and every occasion—as well as numerous websites with ideas and recipes.

While the casserole cooker option likely won’t replace the traditional slow cooker, it is a great option for slow cooking recipes that are more casserole-like.  I have one and find it quite useful, especially when the family comes home.

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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Biscotti, Italy’s Dunkin’ Delight

I’ve been making and enjoying Biscotti, those singular long, crisp and crunchy Italian cookies, since they became an American favorite in the 1990s.  It really started with my college kids who were enjoying pricey, individually wrapped biscotti with their late-night cappuccinos.  The habit was becoming expensive so the question, “Mom, can you make some?”

Biscotti are one of the simplest, most versatile cookies one can possibly bake. They are made with simple, on-hand ingredients–butter, sugar, eggs, flour, and baking powder–with the addition of any likeable flavoring, spice or chocolate and/or enhanced with add-ins such as chocolate chips, nuts, dried fruit, and liqueurs for sweet or olives, herbs, and cheese for savory as perfect accompaniments to charcuterie boards.  No special equipment is needed. And as it turned out, perfect for college kids’ snacks.

The word biscotti is derived from the Latin biscoctus, meaning twice baked or cooked which accurately describes the process by which biscotti comes about.  The cookie dough is formed into logs, baked, cooled slightly, and baked again.  Biscotti is thought to have originated in the Tuscany region in the 14th century in the city of Prato as a biscuit with almonds as a main ingredient since there was an abundance of almonds in the region. It was discovered that the second baking drew out moisture rendering it hard and resistant to mold making it an ideal food to store or for sailors to take to sea. However, there are indications that it may go back to the days of the Roman Empire. The British hardtack and German zwieback might be considered spinoffs of the biscotti as they, too, are twice baked. Incidentally, today Italians call biscotti cantucci and use the term biscotti to refer to any type of crunchy cookie.

So if biscotti are so simple, why doesn’t everyone bake them?  There are no shortages of recipes for biscotti—name the flavor and there’s a recipe for that! And despite their long heritage, there is no perfect way to make biscotti as they are a remarkably forgiving cookie.  They do require a little more baking time since it is done twice.

Here are some tips that I’ve learned:

  • Have all ingredients at room temperature.
  • If dough is too sticky, add a bit more flour.  If dough is too dry and crumbly, add another egg.  Bake on a less humid day if possible.
  • Mix dough on low mixer speed to reduce cracking in the top during baking.
  • Refrigerating the dough an hour or so helps with the stickiness when forming the log.  Dough should feel like play-dough when it is handled.
  • Preheat the oven with oven racks in the middle.
  • Line the baking sheet with parchment paper and place only two logs on a baking sheet at a time.
  • Logs are usually shaped 10-12 inches in length, about 2 inches wide, and about ½ inch thick.  That can vary by individual taste.
  • Allow the logs to cool 15-20 minutes after the first baking before slicing.  If they sit for too long, they get too hard to slice.
  • Use a serrated knife in a sawing motion to slice; this will reduce crumbling.  If crumbling is a problem, lightly mist with water before slicing.
  • Leave plenty of space between the slices for the second baking.
  • Recipes differ on whether slices should be laid on their side or stood upright for the second baking. It doesn’t matter.  If laid on their side, they should be flipped mid-way through the baking time.
  • Bake at 350ºF for first baking and 300ºF for second baking.  The longer they are in the oven for the second baking, the harder and crisper they will become.
  • Cool biscotti slices completely before garnishing with frosting or melted chocolate or dipping in melted chocolate.
  • Store biscotti in jars or tins to maintain their crispness.  If stored properly, they will easily keep for a month.  They also freeze well.
  • If biscotti softens, place them in a 300ºF for 10-15 minutes to re-crisp.

So, next time cookies are in the offing, don’t forget biscotti. They’re easier than they look. They make impressive gifts and ship better than cookies! And as for how to eat them, anything goes! Dunking is my favorite.

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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Embracing Fall with Cherished Family Recipes

We are living in an abnormal year!  The year of 2020 has brought many challenges to our lives in ways we could not have predicted as we celebrated 2019 and welcomed 2020—how we do our jobs, our children’s schooling, connecting with family, socializing with friends, celebrating special events, shopping, and just about everything else. 

Sometimes in the midst of turmoil, we need to be reminded of the constants in our lives.  The cycle of changing seasons being one; it’s something we can always depend on.  In a normal year, there was something special about the return of routine in the fall.  The end of summer might have meant a new calendar charting everyone’s school and extra-curricular activities, practice times, meeting new teachers and launching into a new academic year.  For others, fall might have been a time of looking forward to reconnecting with coworkers and friends after being away or in-and-out over the summer.  Fall also meant the return of football games, tailgates, visits to the pumpkin patch, carnivals, and that long-planned fall trip. Whatever fall meant in the past, COVID-19 might have changed those ‘looked forward to’ expectations.

Coming home, wherever that may be, at the end of day is another constant. It’s where we rest, relax, and recharge to be ready for whatever the next day holds. For some reason, coming home in the fall conjures up memories and smells of the past–pot roast in the oven or chili on the stove. 

My AnswerLine co-workers and I are each sharing a cherished recipe handed down from our mothers or grandmothers that bring happy fall memories to mind.   We hope that they will help you recall a favorite fall memory or smell to make your fall routine seem ‘normal’ and remind you that having constants in our lives gives us the fortitude for whatever unknowns the season my hold.  May your fall be a time to carry on traditions as much as possible while embracing new adventures.

Memories from Marcia Steed
The comfort food that I fondly recall from my mom’s kitchen in the fall was chili. We were a busy household but always had supper together as a family. Chili was a ‘go to’ as it could be prepared ahead and would be ready for us whenever we gathered for supper. My mom would have used the
Chili Con Carne recipe from the traditional red-checkered
Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.

Chili Con Carne
1 pound ground beef
1 cup chopped onion
3/4 cup chopped green pepper
1 1-pound can (2 cups tomatoes, broken up
1 1-pound can (2 cups) dark red kidney beans, drained
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1 to 2 teaspoons chili powder
1 bay leaf

In heavy skillet, cook meat, onion, and green pepper till meat is lightly browned and vegetables are tender. Stir in remaining ingredients. Cover and simmer for 1 hour. Remove bay leaf. Makes 4 servings.

Memories from Marlene Geiger
A memory that always comes back to me in the fall is the smell of Mom’s apple butter wafting in the air as I neared by childhood home after school.  Apple Butter was made almost annually from the apples in the family orchard and served on toast for breakfast. The recipe is taken from the tattered pages of my mother’s handwritten cookbook in a 1940s spiral notebook.  Likely the recipe is my grandmother’s. The apple butter was made in a large enamel roasting pan, the same pan used to roast a turkey.  The recipe is non-specific, typical of an old recipe.  Today, I make apple butter in my electric programmable pressure cooker using a tested recipe.

Apple Butter
Pare, core, and dice 15 cups apples to fill roasting pan.  Add 12 cups sugar, and one teaspoon cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. Bake until apples are tender and thick. Mash apples if needed. 

Memories from Beth Marrs
A family favorite is the chocolate chip cookie recipe that my mom made for my sister and I.  It is the perfect cookie that is soft and delicious.  These cookies were favorites of all of my kids’ teammates, too, as I would make multiple batches of cookies to take along to all their fall activities.    I am thrilled to now be making them with my grandsons who are 2 and 4!

Chocolate Chip Pudding Cookies
1 cup butter or margarine
¾ cup brown sugar
¼ cup sugar
1 (3.4 oz.) package instant vanilla pudding mix
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 ¼ cup flour
1 package chocolate chips

Cream butter and sugars.  Add pudding mix, vanilla and eggs and mix until creamy.  Slowly add the baking soda and flour and mix until combined.  Stir in chocolate chips.  I use a medium cookie scoop to make them all the same size and shape and place them on a cookie sheet.  Bake 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes.  They will be light brown. Do not overbake.

Memories from Carol Van Waardhuizen
I remember fall as a time when I converted my FCS high school students into “homemade soup lovers.”  To accomplish our knife skills objectives, we used potato peelers, chef’s knives and paring knives to prep our freshly harvested vegetables.  Lastly, they learned of the versatility of a basic potato soup by adding cooked ham cubes, bacon bits, or grated cheeses.  They couldn’t believe the goodness of a thick soup that they had created themselves.  

Potato Soup
4 potatoes, washed, peeled and diced 
2 carrots, washed, peeled and sliced 
2 ½ cups of water
1 T. and 1 t. chicken soup base (or vegetarian)
3 T. butter or margarine
½ large onion, chopped 
2 T. flour 
2 cups milk
Ground pepper to taste 
½ t. salt 
2 t. dried parsley
1/8 t. dried thyme or other seasonings to taste

In a stockpot or Dutch oven, heat water while preparing vegetables.  Add potatoes, carrots and chicken soup base to the boiling water.  Return to a boil and cook until the potatoes are tender (about 10 minutes if the cubes are about 1” or smaller).  Some of the water will boil down, but don’t let it dry up. 
While potatoes and carrots are cooking, melt butter in a skillet and add onions. Sauté onions until they are translucent.  Over medium heat, add the flour to the cooked onions to make a (roux) paste and then cook 1 minute, to cook the flour starch.  Gradually add the milk.  Stir well with a wooden spoon. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until the white sauce has thickened.  
Add the onion and white sauce mixture to the cooked potatoes and carrot mixture and stir well.  Stir in the seasonings and heat thoroughly.  You can garnish with grated cheese, bacon bits, ham cubes or other items to your preference.  

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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Moving Plants Indoors

With nighttime and daytime temperatures dropping and hard frosts in the near future, it is time for me to turn my attention to bringing in and acclimating my vacationing tender houseplants, tropicals, and geraniums.  Most experts recommend transitioning plants from their present light conditions to lower light conditions over a period of several days when temperatures drop below 50-60 degrees.  Like most years, I am already too late to give them the proper transitioning period so I will expect some yellowing and leaf dropping as they adapt to indoor light conditions.  I am fortunate to have several south-facing windows for wintering which helps give them as much light as possible.

As mentioned, I am already late in getting this project done and I do tend to put it off as long as possible.  I so hate to give up the lovely potted plants and arrangements on my patio as it means a time for downsizing, sharing, and pitching.   It is totally impractical for me to bring everything inside.  It begins step by step.

The houseplants and tropical will be the first to move indoors as they are the most easily hurt by cold temperature.  Before bringing inside, they must be inspected and treated for pests.  Aphids, mealybugs, white flies and other pests aren’t normally a problem when potted indoor plants are outside. But they can quickly turn into a major infestation during the winter if they are brought inside on the plants. Some experts recommend bathing or soaking plants before bringing them inside in a tub of water with a mild dishwashing soap.  Since most of my plants are too big for a tub, I first spray them with water which also removes outdoor dust from the leaves.  Next, I wash the top and undersides of the leaves as much as possible with water and dishwashing soap and then rinse with water. It is important that the soapy water also get into the soil as it will help to kill any pests residing there, too. Once inside, I check them with each watering for any sign of infestation and if spotted, treat religiously with an insecticidal soap until the problem is resolved.  I also wash the outside of the pots to remove dirt and to remove any unwanted pests that might be present.

The second step for my houseplants is to determine if they need pruning, separating, or repotting.  Some plants may have outgrown their pot and need something larger.  Others may be too large for the indoor space and need to be pruned, separated, or even propagated to start a new plant. 

The geraniums get a complete make over before coming indoors. As the plants are removed from their outdoor containers, I spray their roots with water to remove the soil and then soak them in a tub of water and dishwashing detergent to remove any potential pests, followed by a rinse.  After their bath, one of three things happens to them. 1) Plants are pruned (both foliage and roots) and put into small pots using fresh potting soil. 2) Cuttings are taken for new starts. 3) Whole plants are tagged as to color or variety and placed bare root upside down in paper bags.  More information on how to do prepare geraniums for wintering can be found in this article by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach horticulturalists.

Once the plants are inside a new kind of care begins–watching for pests, watering appropriately, cleaning up dropped leaves and petals, and fertilizing as needed. To prevent overwatering, that means letting the soil dry to the touch before watering. Depending upon the conditions of the home, some plants may need nearly as much water in the winter as they do in the summer.  My geraniums and tropicals winter in a cool part of the house so I find that watering them every other week is sufficient. I usually don’t fertilize them until late winter/early spring.

The geraniums do need additional tending.  The roots of the bare root plants are misted at the same time as watering the potted pants.  About every six weeks, I take time to remove spent blossoms and dried leaves, prune any plants that have become leggy, and remove any plants that did not survive their transplant or move indoors.  Successful cuttings are also transplanted to larger pots.

Bringing my houseplants, tropicals, and geraniums indoors for fall and winter has been a great way for me to preserve my plants and save money by not repeatedly buying new plants each spring.  It does take considerable time in the fall, but in doing so, I have been able to enjoy the same plants and collections for many years and use the money saved to purchase new or interesting plants.

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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Celebrating the ‘Unique’ Angel Food Cake

Unbeknown to me, October 10 is National Angel Food Cake Day, a day to celebrate the light and fluffy textured foam cake made primarily of egg whites.  October seems like an unlikely month to celebrate angel food; I think of it as a springtime dessert served with fresh berries or fruit.

Since I enjoy history, I set out to learn the origins of the cake but found very little.  It is thought to be an American dessert perhaps originating with the Pennsylvania Dutch. The first recipe for the cake appeared in The Home Book of Tested Recipes in 1878.  In 1880 the New York Times published a recipe for angel food cake and the 1884 Boston Cooking School Cook Book also included an angel food cake recipe.  In a Martha Stewart article, the author writes “some food historians trace the widespread popularity of angel food cake to the advent of the rotary eggbeater in the mid- to late 19th century. What was once an arduous task became much more homemaker-friendly, and recipes began to appear in earnest.”

Regardless of how it originated, angel food cake is a unique cake in several ways–ingredients, pan, and cooling. It is made entirely of stiffly beaten egg whites, flour, sugar, and usually cream of tartar; unlike other cakes, no leavening or fat.  Steam and air incorporated into the eggs whites by beating are the main sources of leavening.  Flour adds structure and sugar brings sweetness.  Cream of tartar, an acid, helps to stabilize the egg whites.  (Lemon juice was once used to keep the beaten egg whites stiff, but today cream of tartar is the stabilizer of choice.) A special ungreased pan, known as a tube pan, is used for baking as the central tube and high sides of the pan support the delicate foam as it expands during baking; the hollow tube also allows for even heat distribution. Angel food cakes are cooled upside down. The elevation provides sufficient air flow to insure proper cooling which is needed to maintain the stability of its lofty structure.

Traditionally an angel food cake is made from stiffly beaten egg whites followed by carefully folding the dry ingredients into the delicate foamy egg whites.  Many recipes require a dozen egg whites or more. (The Pioneer Woman site offers a typical angel food recipe with tips and pictures.) Other options in today’s world include 1-step and 2-step box mixes.  A 1-step mix combines dehydrated egg whites, sugar, flour, flavorings, surfactants, stabilizers, and leavening agents in one package; water is added to the mix and beaten for a given amount of time.  Most major brands no longer offer the 2-step mix but some store-brand labels still offer this option.  The 2-step option is similar to traditional in that there are two packages in the mix—dehydrated egg whites and dry ingredients (sugar, flour, flavorings, stabilizers, and leavening agents).  First the dehydrated whites are whipped with water until stiff and then the dry ingredients are carefully folded into the egg white batter.  Purchasing a ready-made cake from the bakery is also an option.

Angel food cake is a low-guilt dessert with no cholesterol or fat.  One slice of cake typically contains 129 calories from 15 grams of sugar and 3.1 grams of protein.  Different recipes, box mixes or commercially prepared cakes may differ on calorie count and nutrition.

Angel food cake is not limited to just the traditional white. Angel food can be many flavors and colors. Since it is fall, it might be fun to celebrate National Angel Food Cake day by also celebrating a flavor of the season with a Pumpkin Angel Food Cake!  Taste of Home offers an easy recipe and the pumpkin will add additional vitamins and fiber!  Here’s to National Angel Food Day!

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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Butternut Squash – Versatile, Nutritious, Long Keeping, and Convenient Size Make It A Favorite

Fall has arrived and winter squash is available.  Butternut squash is one of my favorite winter squash varieties. I like it for a variety of reasons—versatility, nutrition, long keeping quality, and convenient size.

Versatility. It is delicious cooked, steamed, baked, roasted, sautéed and pureed and as such can be used in countless ways. The smooth texture of the butternut squash is a great addition to many sweet and savory dishes and can be used as a substitute for pumpkin in nearly any recipe.  During the fall and winter months, I keep butternut squash on hand continuously for pancakes, soups and stews, breads (yeast and quick), desserts, dips and spreads, shakes, and even pizza.  It can be eaten raw, but cooking the squash softens the flesh, making it easier to consume and digest.  Because squash takes on many different flavors, it is tastier when cooked but it is also a nice addition when grated raw and added to salads.

Nutrition. Butternut squash is very nutritious. The flesh is an excellent source of Vitamins A and C as well as a good source of thiamin, niacin, Vitamin B6, folate, pantothenic acid, calcium, iron, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and manganese. The seeds are packed with protein and heart-healthy fats making them a nutrient dense, filling snack. Even though it is a high-carbohydrate food, it has a low glycemic index, making it a smart addition to most healthy meal plans. It is also a great choice for people on low-fat diets as it contains almost no fat. Lastly, it’s a good source of dietary fiber; a 1-cup serving provides a fourth of our daily needs.

Keeping qualities.  If stored properly, butternut squash is a long-keeping squash lasting up to 6 months. For best results, squash should be stored in a cool, dry spot (50-55 degrees F) with relative humidity of 60-70 percent. Uncooked butternut squash should not be refrigerated.  If picked from the garden, it needs to be cured with warm temperatures and good air circulation for 10-14 days before storing. 

Peeled or cooked butternut squash should be refrigerated; it is good for 5-7 days.  Cooked or raw butternut can be frozen.  To freeze raw squash, simply cube or slice the squash and place in air-tight freezer bags for up to a year.  Cooked squash can be frozen in any appropriate freezer container. 

Convenient size. Mature butternut squash range from 1 to 5 lbs. The average butternut squash will be around 2 to 3 lbs. Since the skin is thin and the seed cavity small, there isn’t much loss. A 3-pound squash yields about 4½ cups uncooked 1-inch cubes. 1 cup cubed raw butternut squash weighs about ⅔ pound. A cup of raw butternut squash cubes yielded ½ cup of soft cooked cubes. Therefore, if a recipe calls for a can of pumpkin which is just shy of 2 cups, it takes about 4 cups raw cubed squash.

As a member of the Cucurbita moschata family, butternut has two cousins–cushaw and cheese pumpkin–that work equally as well, but their bigger size becomes a consideration.

For more about butternut squash, check out How to Select, Peel, and Use Butternut Squash.

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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Boosting the Immune System

Health officials advise us each fall to get our flu shots.  The flu vaccine helps reduce the severity of flu symptoms and helps prevent against the virus. This year the flu shot’s importance has been heighten because of the coronavirus pandemic.

After getting the shot, the next step should be regular visits to your local grocery store to pick up foods that will continually boost your immunity.  It is important to note that NO diet or supplement will cure or prevent disease; rather a healthy immune system is a powerful weapon against colds, flu, and other infections.

There are several different vitamins and minerals that fall in the immune booster category. These booster foods can increase the number of white blood cells and enhance their function while helping to flush non-functioning cells from the body. Listed below are some key nutrients and the foods where they can be found.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C sits at the top of the immune boosters. It increases the production of white blood cells and antibodies which are key to fighting infections.  It also increases the antibody, interferon, which coats cell surfaces and prevents the entry of viruses. Besides helping with colds and flu, Vitamin C is a key element in fighting cardiovascular disease by raising HDL (good cholesterol) and decreasing blood pressure. Good sources of Vitamin C include: bell peppers (especially red peppers), citrus fruits (grapefruit, oranges, clementines, tangerines, limes, lemons), dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, broccoli, sprouts), kiwi, papaya, and herbs (parsley, thyme).

Vitamin E

Vitamin E sometimes takes a back seat to Vitamin C but this powerful antioxidant is key to stimulating the natural killer cells that seek out and destroy germs, bacteria and even cancer cells. It’s a fat-soluble vitamin, which means it requires the presence of fat to be absorbed properly. Nuts (almonds, peanuts, walnuts) are packed with the vitamin and also have healthy fats. Other foods containing Vitamin E include: sunflower seeds, dark leafy greens (see Vitamin C), avocados, and sweet potatoes.

Beta-Carotene

Beta carotene is an antioxidant that converts to vitamin A and plays a very important role in immune health by increasing the infection fighting cells while decreasing the number of free radicals in the body. Beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant and helps fight cardiovascular disease by interfering with the way fats oxidize in the blood stream to form plaque. It is also known to aid in the battle against cancer and promote eye and skin health. Common foods containing beta-carotene include: naturally orange foods (carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, squash) dark leafy greens (spinach, kale, red leaf lettuce, turnip greens), cantaloupe, red and yellow peppers, and apricots.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3’s boost immune function by increasing phagocyte, the white blood cells that destroy bacteria. They also protect the body against damage from inflammation due to infection. Omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin E complement each other, working together to give a major boost to the immune system.  Omega-3’s are important to heart health by maintaining heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and improving blood vessel function. Foods high in Omega-3 include: fish and fish oil, canola oils, nuts (especially walnuts), flax seeds, flaxseed oil, and leafy vegetables.

Zinc

Zinc doesn’t get as much attention, but our bodies need it so that our immune cells can function as intended. However, too much zinc can actually inhibit immune system function so the RDA (11 mg men, 8 mg women) is sufficient. Shellfish (oysters, crab, mussels) is the best source of zinc.  Other sources include: red meat and poultry, beans, nuts, and whole grains. 

Variety is key. Eating just one of these foods won’t be enough to help fight off cold, flu or other infections. Pay attention to serving sizes and recommended daily intake to keep things in balance. Beyond immune boosting foods, staying healthy also involves regular exercise, staying hydrated throughout the day, and practicing good hygiene to protect oneself from colds, flues, and other illnesses.

In light of the 2019 coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, it’s especially important to note that no specific food, supplement, diet, or other lifestyle modification has been shown to protect one from COVID-19.  As with other infections, immune boosting foods will help with the fight.  Physical or social distancing, masking, and proper hygiene practices are the agents known to protect one from COVID-19. 

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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