Choosing the right crisper drawer in the refrigerator

crisper-drawers1 Crisper drawers serve an important role in your refrigerator. If used correctly those drawers can extend the life of your fruits and vegetables.

There are two kinds of crispers: low-humidity and high-humidity. The humidity setting refers to the amount of space in the drawers left open to airflow. Low-humidity drawers introduce some airflow into the drawer while high-humidity drawers are enclosed. Put fruits that tend to rot in the low-humidity drawer and produce that tends to wilt in the high-humidity drawer.

Why you ask? Because some produce emit a gas called ethylene as they ripen. Some fruits ripen further when exposed to that ethylene. So as some fruits release more ethylene other fruits nearby may begin to rot as well as the fruit releasing the ethylene itself. If you keep the high ethylene producing fruits in the low-humidity crisper drawer, some of the ethylene gas will be let out keeping the fruits and vegetables in that drawer fresher longer.

Greens, and anything else that can lose moisture quickly, are best stored in the high-humidity crisper drawer. The tighter seal in that drawer helps keep the moisture in. It is important to keep ethylene-producing produce out of this drawer so it will not cause ethylene-sensitive produce to wilt. If your crisper drawers are labeled “fruit” or “vegetable” the fruit drawer would be considered low-humidity and the vegetable drawer would be considered high-humidity.

The general rule is fruits like low humidity and vegetables like high humidity with a few exceptions. Tomatoes can lose flavor and even become overly soft if kept too cold so keep them on the counter. Bananas stop ripening if refrigerated but their skins turn black so they are best stored on the counter. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, and dry garlic prefer cool, dry conditions so don’t need to be refrigerated.

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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Which apple to use?

applesIt is Apple Season! October is National Apple Month. There are so many varieties you may be wondering which variety is best for specific uses, how to store them for best quality, or how many apples are in a pound or bushel.

Apples are considered a great snack food as an average sized apple contains about 90 calories and is about 85% water. That makes them thirst quenching and a quick energy provider with their natural sugars, plus the bulky pulp makes the eater feel full.

Apples may be displayed in a fruit bowl at room temperature for a short period of time but that will dramatically reduce their usable life. Apples will last the longest when kept close to 32 degrees. For most of us that would mean the refrigerator. Apples stored near 32 degrees in perforated plastic bags or covered containers will last 8-10 times longer than if stored at room temperature.

One pound of apples equals 2 large, 3 medium, or 4 to 5 small which would make about 3 cups peeled and cut-up fruit. Two pounds of apples would be enough for a 9-inch pie.

One bushel of apples equals about 40 pounds. That would be enough for 20 nine-inch pies or 15-20 quarts of applesauce.

The best baking apples offer a balance of sweet and tart flavors as well as flesh that doesn’t break down in the oven. Granny Smith apples are generally thought of as the go-to baking apples but there are others that hold up under heat and balance the sweet-tart flavor. The crisp texture of the Honey crisp apple will hold firm when baked or caramelized. Pink Lady apples will retain a distinct shape when diced and added to coffee cake or muffins.  Jonathans are tart and tangy and have been pie favorites for many

years. Cooks Illustrated recommends the following six varieties of apples for pie baking: Sweet  – Golden Delicious, Braeburn, Jonagold; Tart – Granny Smith, Empire, Courtland.

Bred to be an eating apple, Red Delicious are unsuitable for baking. They are mild-flavored, sweet, and juicy. Other apples good for eating fresh are Gala, Fuji, and Braeburn.

Enjoy apple season this year and have fun experimenting with different variety combinations in your baking.

For more information go to the U.S. Apple Association for an apple usage chart.

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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Why did my tomatoes separate in the jar?


If you have seen separation in your home canned tomatoes, you may be wondering just what causes this to happen. Heating the product before putting it in the jar; otherwise known as a hot pack can help prevent this separation.

Separation in canned tomato products is not unsafe. It merely reflects the action of enzymes in tomatoes that have been cut and allowed to sit at room temperature. The enzymes that naturally occur will begin to break down pectin in the tomatoes.  This breakdown results in a yellow red tinted liquid that can appear in either the top or bottom of the jar.  In tomato juices, a quick shake of the jar will make the layer disappear.  The layers will reappear after the contents of the jar resettle.  In canned whole tomatoes, the separation cannot be dispersed by shaking the jar.  You can safely use both the tomato layer and the liquid layer while making other foods like spaghetti sauce or chili but it is a bit unappealing in the jar.

Be sure to follow the directions for the hot pack carefully as overheating the tomatoes can also cause separation of the solids and liquids. Our favorite recipe for canning tomatoes is from the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Enjoy the rest of tomato season!



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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Try Grilling Pizza

Have you ever tried using your grill to cook a homemade pizza? If you haven’t done it before you should try it!  Not only is it easy to do, the pizza has a wonderful crispy crust and you are not heating up your house cooking it inside!  I usually make a homemade crust but there are several options available at the grocery store if you want to save that step and purchase one.  If you use your favorite homemade pizza dough recipe spread both sides with corn meal to keep it from sticking to the grill grates.


You are then ready to put the pizza crust on a hot grill. The crust will cook quickly so watch it carefully to make sure it doesn’t get to dark. Usually it will only take a couple of minutes. Once you see grill marks simply flip it over so both sides are cooked evenly. *We will be putting it back on the grill with the toppings for the final cooking.)  When finished the crust should have char marks on it.


When it is done remove the crust to a cutting board or cookie sheet. Now you are ready for your toppings. We like to be creative but you can use any toppings that you like. Our favorite is chicken, bacon, ranch with spinach. The ranch dressing is our pizza sauce   Make sure that your toppings aren’t piled too high since we will be returning it to the grill to finish cooking.


If you have a charcoal grill the last cooking will be done with indirect heat meaning that you will want to gather your coals to one side of the grill. The pizza will cook in the other side. I have a gas grill so I simply turn off one side of the burners. This indirect heat will be like putting it in your oven. The toppings will heat and the cheese will melt. The result will be a pizza that your family will rave about!



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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Using a Pressure Cooker

Pressure canner3Canning season is in full swing for many people. AnswerLine gets many calls about using a pressure cooker for canning. A pressure cooker is NOT designed for canning but it has many other great uses. I have friends who use theirs weekly for the time-saving convenience. Many of us are looking for that on busy weeknights!

Pressure cooking uses water or another liquid heated to boiling to produce steam. Water, as you know, boils at 212 degrees F. Steam is hotter than boiling water and can get up to @250 degrees F. Trapping that steam puts pressure on the food in the pan which cooks it 3-10 times faster.

Less liquid is required when pressure cooking as compared to conventional cooking. You will want to use at least one cup of liquid but never fill the pressure cooker more than half full with liquid. You can always use more liquid than the recipe calls for but never less. You can fill the cooker up to 2/3 full with food but not over that. If you are cooking foods that expand significantly (rice, beans, grains, soups) do not fill the cooker more than half full. The steam needs space to build up in the cooker.

Begin cooking over high heat for the pressure to build up then lower the heat so pressure is maintained without exceeding it. Timing is as important as building up the steam when pressure cooking. I recommend you set a digital kitchen timer for the recommended cooking time. It is always better to undercook than overcook. You can always cook in additional 1-5 minute intervals if the food needs to be cooked longer.

Foods should be cut into uniform sized pieces for best results. If you are cooking meat, potatoes, and vegetables start with the meat. Cook until half done, release the pressure and add the potatoes. Cook them for 2/3 their recommended time, release the pressure and lastly add the quicker cooking vegetables.

To release the pressure from the cooker, follow the manufacturer’s directions for your particular model. Some recommend the Natural Release method and some the Quick Release method.

Pressure cooking is virtually fat-free since the steam cooks the food so no added fats need to be used. The quick cooking in an almost airless environment helps retain nutrients and the high temperature steam intensifies the flavors so less seasoning needs to be used.

Pressure cookers are best suited for cooking foods that are naturally tough or require long cooking times but you can cook almost anything in them. Just remember – pressure cookers are NOT for canning! Pressure canners must be large enough to hold 4 quart sized jars!

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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Which butter for baking?

IMG_8023 - CopyWhen I go to the grocery store I am finding more and more options for butter. That has made me wonder which butter is best for baking when my recipe just calls for “butter”. I consulted King Arthur Flour to find what differences there are among butters.

According to King Arthur Flour, Grade AA butter has the most buttery flavor. It has 18% water, at least 80% butterfat, and 1%-2% milk solids. It is great for baking and spreading.

European style butter (i.e. Kerrygold) has less water and is higher in fat, ranging from 82%-86%. In baking it can create a more greasy or sometimes drier product if European style butter is not specifically called for in the recipe.

Whipped butter  is aerated with a special type of gas to make it more spreadable. It also contains additives that keep it from going bad. Whipped butter is not recommended for baking.

Cultured butter (i.e. Organic Valley) is slightly tangier because it is inoculated with live bacteria that release lactic acid. Cultured butter is also not recommended for baking ~ but it is delicious ON baked products!

The salt in Salted butter acts as a preservative and masks any potentially off flavors. Because of that, it often sits on grocery store shelves longer than unsalted butter does. Most brands of salted butter contain about 1/4 teaspoon of salt per 1/2 cup stick.

So – the recommended butter to use in most baking recipes is AA unsalted butter. That way you are able to control the amount of salt in your recipe and have the most buttery flavor.

If you choose to use margarine in your baking, choose one with 100 calories per tablespoon. If it has less calories than that, it means water has been whipped into the margarine which will affect your finished product. Typically that is the store brand.

Happy baking!



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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Tips for thawing meat safely

Thawing meat

Now that we are back into the routine of school and work, it may be time to think about food safety again. Long days of school and work can make fixing dinner a challenge.  After school errands or athletic practices make mealtime hectic. Especially when you forget to thaw meat needed for dinner tonight.

There are four methods for thawing meat safely. You can thaw in the refrigerator, in the microwave, in cold water, or cook the meat without thawing it at all.

Here are some thoughts about each method.

Refrigerator thawing:

      • Requires advance planning
      • Takes at least overnight-much longer for larger items
      • Place meat on a plate or pan to prevent drippings from contaminating ready to eat foods
      • Meat thawed using this method can be safely refrozen if plans change

Microwave thawing

  • Food thawed using the microwave must be cooked immediately—the food may have hot spots that allow bacteria to grow if time passes between thawing and cooking
  • Foods should be cooked before refreezing if plans change
  • This method takes little advance planning
  • Thaws meat in a short time

Thawing in cold water

      • Meat thaws faster than in the refrigerator, but requires frequent water changes
      • Meat must be in a leak-proof package
      • Submerge the bag of meat in cold water and change the water every 30 minutes. Once thawed, cook the meat immediately.
      • Cook this meat before refreezing

Cooking without thawing

    • This is a safe process
    • Remember that cooking frozen meat will take about 50% longer to cook.
    • It may be the fastest method when you are in a hurry

Remember that handling meat safely when thawing is important. It is NOT safe to set meat out on the counter to thaw while you are away at work.  Cooking may not kill all the bacteria present.  You won’t be able to taste the presence of bacteria that could make your or your family sick.  Keep your family safe and follow safe practices when thawing meat.

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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When should I harvest my vegetables?

We have been getting a lot of questions this week from callers that want to know just when they should be harvesting different vegetables from their gardens. The Extension Store has a great publication that you may want to download and keep near your gardening supplies.  The chart below was taken from that publication.  In addition to this chart, there are descriptions for planting and harvesting times as well as methods to prolong harvest for some vegetables.




Remember that if you want to preserve your vegetables, you will have the best quality product if you preserve it as soon as possible after picking.  Please contact us if you have questions about the best way to preserve those vegetables.

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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Salt . . . Which for What?

salt 2Sea salt, table salt, kosher salt, Himalayan salt, pickling salt, fleur de sel, flavored salt, smoked salt, low-sodium salt . . .  The list of salt choices has grown far beyond the single salt shaker we once knew.  The grocery shelves are now lined with numerous possibilities.  Why so many choices?  Is one better than another?  Which should you use for what?

The answer to such questions could become an entire SALT 101 course.    Bottom line, all salts are not created equal but essentially are alike.  Salt, in any form, is a crystalline mineral made of two elements, sodium and chlorine, both essential to life.  However, in our quest to get these essential elements, we must be mindful that the American Heart Association recommends keeping our salt intake to less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day or roughly two-thirds of a teaspoon of table salt.   Most of the world’s salt is harvested from underground salt mines or by evaporating sea water or other mineral-rich waters.  It is the processing after harvest that makes the difference.

Here’s a quick “shake” on salt:

Table Salt – Table salt is available plain or fortified with iodine; iodine is important for thyroid regulation. Table salt also dissolves the quickest making it ideal for most cooking and baking.

Kosher Salt – Many chefs use kosher as it is a flatter, lighter, and flakier salt.  Because of its irregular shaped granules and subtle crunch, it is a good salt to use to flavor food as the larger grains give you less sodium per teaspoon.  Kosher salt is also commonly used to rim margaritas.

Sea Salt – The bigger granules of sea salt offer more flavor with less sodium.  However, it may not be a good choice for routine cooking or baking since it does not dissolve easily and can cause issues with the taste and texture of dishes prepared with it.  It is great for garnishing.

Low-Sodium Salt – The sodium chloride is reduced with the addition of potassium chloride, a mineral that tastes salty but is bitter when heated.  It works well as a replacement in the salt shaker at the table but should not be used by those on blood pressure medications.

Pickling Salt – Canning salt or pickling salt is pure salt and as such is more concentrated.  It contains no additives.  This is the best choice for canning, pickling, sauerkraut making, and brining meat.  A publication by Penn State University, Types of Salt and Salt Substitutes in Canning, offers some great information on using salt in food preservation.

Gourmet Salts – This group might include salts by such names as Fleur de Sel, Sel Gris, infused salt, Himalayan salt, Celtic salt, and others.  These salts tend to be more expensive and are used for various purposes in food preparation but largely they make a great finishing salt for the special flavors they may impart.

Rock Salt – Mined from deposits in the earth, rock salt is for making ice cream and deicing.  It should not be used directly on food.  Minerals and other harmless impurities can give it a grayish color.

The above is by no means a complete list of all salt possibilities but will hopefully help you navigate some of the choices available.

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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School Safety Tips

School picture1This time of year, our focus is on getting kids ready to go back to school. We give a lot of thought to buying just the right school supplies, reestablishing our school day routine, and packing a safe school lunches. We should also be teaching or reminding kids of tips for staying safe while traveling to and from school.

Remind your child that if they are walking to school, they should:

  • Always walk on the sidewalk.
  • Choose the sidewalk on the side of the street that allows them to face traffic.
  • Of course, always look both ways before crossing.
  • Don’t run out from between parked cars.
  • If possible, have an adult walk them to school

If your child will be biking to school:

  • Make sure your child has a helmet that fits well and that they wear the helmet
  • Always stop before coming into an intersection
  • Teach your kids the rules of the road for riding a bike

If your child rides the school bus:

  • Make sure your child knows the proper way to get on and off of a school bus.
  • Let them know that they need to be able to see the bus driver at all times if they need to cross in front of the bus. That crossing should be 10 feet ahead of the bus.
  • Tell them to stand at least 6 feet away from the curb while waiting for the bus to arrive.

You may want to make a practice trip to the school with younger children who will be walking or biking to school. School will be here before we know it; the first day of school is next week for all of my grandchildren.

These tips courtesy of Mississippi State Extension Service.



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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