Subscription Meal Kits

It would be hard to miss the new trends in meal preparation. Everywhere I look, I see ads for subscription meal kits sent directly to the home.  I’ve wondered for a while just how expensive these prepared packages are, what kinds of foods are included, and just how fresh could the foods be in that sort of system.

I had the opportunity to check this out first hand when I received a coupon for 60% off on one of those websites. We were looking into this one day at work with the thought that we may want some first-hand knowledge at AnswerLine. We wanted to compare some of the different companies to compare cost, shipping, and available plans.  There are a larger number of companies that I realized.  The costs are similar and most companies offer meals that can be ready in about 30 minutes.

I ordered 3 meals for the week from one of the companies and thought that I might make the meals for my husband and myself. The package arrived shortly after noon on the day of the week that I chose in advance.  The food was well packaged and included 2 large ice packs that kept the food at a nice, safe, cold temperature.  The food was packaged in a very organized way, meats were double sealed—vacuum packed and then inserted into a second plastic bag to prevent cross contamination.  Vegetables were very fresh and appealing.  Small bags labeled for a specific meal contained small amounts of several different ingredients.  The only ingredient that I needed to have on hand was olive oil.

The recipes and directions were very clear and had step by step directions. Techniques that might be unfamiliar were demonstrated with videos on their website. I would recommend reading through the directions a time or two before preparing the meal.  It can be easy to be confused and forget as step or do something in the wrong order when working with unfamiliar ingredients.

After sharing the first meal with my husband, I thought it might be fun to gather the AnswerLine staff to prepare the other two meals. This would give us all some experience with meal kits and it would be a good opportunity for getting to know each other even better.  Marcia volunteered her home so we all met after work on a Monday night.  We worked together to make the first meal, enjoyed it and then prepared the second meal.  It was fun to work together as there is usually a fair amount of washing, chopping, and mixing to do with these meals.  The food was delicious, serving sizes were ample, and the preparation fun.  The meals are not inexpensive, but compared to picking up some fast food or restaurant take out the prices are comparable. These meals allowed me to try some new foods that I likely would not try on my own and to save some time by not going to the grocery store.  I also liked that there were not any left-over foods to deal with; either ingredients or leftover entrée.  Most companies will allow you to skip weeks of delivery so it could be something to use when you know in advance you will have a busy week.  I tried two more weeks of meal deliveries and I have to say that all the meals were tasty.  It is not something I plan to use on a regular basis, but I can see a place for this system.

This blog in no way endorses a specific company, but is designed to look into this new food trend. Let us know what works for you and your family during  busy times.  We plan to look at other ways to provide healthy meals in a hurry for your family.

.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

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

More Posts - Website

Cauliflower!

Cauliflower has recently seemed to be getting a lot of attention. A friend and I are looking forward to making time to try a new pizza recipe using a cauliflower crust. Because of all the recent attention I thought it would be interesting to re-visit cauliflower.

Cauliflower is a flowering member of the cabbage family and can be found year round. It is rich in vitamin C  providing 85% of the daily recommended amount in 1 cup. It is also a good source of potassium, fiber, and folate. The white edible portion is called the “curd” and the heavy outer leaf covering is called the “jacket leaves”. A whole cauliflower weighs @ 1 and 1/2 pounds and yields about 6 cups of florets.

When selecting fresh cauliflower choose heads that are solid, heavy, and unblemished. They should also have fresh green leaves. Store cauliflower in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator and for best quality use within 4 days. It can be eaten raw, steamed, roasted, sauted, microwaved, or grilled. You can use it to stir-fry, in soups or added to mashed potatoes. I also just recently saw a segment on TV making cauliflower “steaks”.

Cauliflower can be cooked whole or broken into florets. You may want to add milk or lemon juice when cooking to help maintain whiteness. If steaming, allow @20 minutes for whole and 6-10 minutes for florets. To microwave, use a covered dish with 1/4 cup water in. Microwave whole cauliflower 8-10 minutes and florets 6-8 minutes. The trick to boiling cauliflower is to cook head down to keep it under water. Boil a whole cauliflower 10-15 minutes and flowerets 3-6 minutes. My favorite way to prepare cauliflower is to roast it. I feel that really brings out the sweetness. Toss the florets onto a rimmed baking sheet and mix with olive oil then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in a preheated 425 degree oven for 35-40 minutes stirring occasionally.

The pizza crust my friend and I are looking forward to making involves ricing/grating the cauliflower and cooking it a little bit in the microwave. Hope it turns out to be blog worthy!

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.

More Posts

More banana flavor!

I am on a quest for a great banana bread recipe. I am looking for a loaf that is moist and tender with LOTS of banana flavor. I also like to be able to use very ripe bananas I have available in the freezer that I have purchased very inexpensively at the grocery store or have accumulated from not eating my fresh bananas in a timely manner.

While looking for a new recipe, I came across an article in Cook’s Illustrated, https://www.americastestkitchen.com/recipes/6067-ultimate-banana-bread-recipe, that recommended “juicing” the bananas then reducing the juice and adding it back into the batter with a little extra flour to compensate for the extra liquid.

Thawed frozen bananas release a large amount of liquid naturally. Peel them and put them in a mesh strainer over a bowl or pan to drain, stirring occasionally. You definitely need a mesh strainer for this step as larger holes allow too much banana pulp to strain through. Once you have collected the liquid, reduce it over medium-high heat down to one fourth cup. Stir the bananas into the banana juice. Add the rest of the wet ingredients and mix together; then stir into the dry ingredients.

If you are using fresh rather than frozen bananas you can use the same procedure but you need to microwave the fully ripe bananas for 5 minutes so they will release their juice.

I think this is a great way to add extra bananas to a banana bread recipe and thus a lot more banana flavor! It was a winner at my house!

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.

More Posts

Winter Weather Preparation

We just got home from one of our favorite places to vacation, the mountains in Colorado. The weather was deceivingly cold.  Even when the sun was out and our skiers and snow boarders came home with many spots that needed to be warmed up!  Fortunately we didn’t have any cases of frostbite, but I thought it would be helpful to review how to dress for the cold weather and what to do when someone does show signs of frostbite or hypothermia.

Here are some important things to remember when you are outside exposed to the elements for long periods of time:

  • Wear a hat to prevent thermal loss from your head. Even better; a mask that covers your nose and cheeks will help keep more parts of your face from getting frostbite. Mittens that are water resistant (mittens are said to keep your fingers warmer). Warm wool socks (again not cotton) and well insulated boots that will stay dry and will keep your feet protected and warm.
  • Dress in layers. Avoid cotton since it is not a good insulator. When cotton gets wet it takes longer to dry and your body temperature will rapidly drop. Better materials are synthetics like polypropylene and performance fabrics or wools that wick wetness away from you skin. The middle layer should offer some insulation even if it gets wet from snow or sweat. Wear a thick insulating fabric over your wicking layers. Have waterproof or at least water resistant outside layers.
  • If you feel body parts getting really cold it is time to come inside and find shelter to warm up. Waiting too long can cause your body temperature to drop which could become life threatening.
  • Remember you burn more calories in cold weather so make sure you have snacks and liquids to refresh yourself.

According to Mayo Clinic Frostbite occurs in several stages:

  • Frostnip. The first stage of frostbite is frostnip. With this mild form of frostbite, your skin pales or turns red and feels very cold. Continued exposure leads to prickling and numbness in the affected area. As your skin warms, you may feel pain and tingling. Frostnip doesn’t permanently damage the skin.
  • Superficial frostbite. The second stage of frostbite appears as reddened skin that turns white or pale. The skin may remain soft, but some ice crystals may form in the tissue. Your skin may begin to feel warm — a sign of serious skin involvement. If you treat frostbite with rewarming at this stage, the surface of your skin may appear mottled, blue or purple. And you may notice stinging, burning and swelling. A fluid-filled blister may appear 24 to 36 hours after rewarming the skin.
  • Severe (deep) frostbite. As frostbite progresses, it affects all layers of the skin, including the tissues that lie below. You may experience numbness, losing all sensation of cold, pain or discomfort in the affected area. Joints or muscles may no longer work. Large blisters form 24 to 48 hours after rewarming. Afterward, the area turns black and hard as the tissue dies.

Rewarm mild frostbite areas by using warm water (101 to 104 degrees) NOT hot water or by applying warm cloths to the area. Make sure you remove any jewelry before rewarming since swelling may occur and NEVER rub or massage the frozen area.

Seek medical attention for frostbite if you experience:

  • Signs and symptoms of superficial or deep frostbite — such as white or pale skin, numbness, or blisters
  • Increased pain, swelling, redness or discharge in the area that was frostbitten
  • Fever
  • New, unexplained symptoms

Get emergency medical help if you suspect hypothermia, a condition in which your body loses heat faster than it can be produced.

Signs and symptoms of hypothermia include:

  • Intense shivering
  • Slurred speech
  • Drowsiness and loss of coordination

The winter weather offers many fun things to do but care needs to be taken to make sure you are not endangering your health. Remember to dress correctly and watch to make sure that frostbite is not going to spoil your fun in the snow!

 

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.

More Posts

It’s time to look for safe, tested canning recipes.

Seed catalogs are arriving at my house daily. It may seem a bit early to be thinking this much about gardening, but it sure makes spring seem closer when I do.  As I look at options for planting crops in my garden, I also think about what kind of food I would like to have on hand next winter.  If I want lots of home preserved tomatoes or pickles, I know that I will need to be planting several varieties of tomatoes and cucumbers.  This preparation extends to preparing my canner and even more important, looking at the source of my recipes to ensure that they are safe and tested recipes.

It can be tempting to want to replicate foods we remember mom or other relatives preserved when we were young. It is SO important to use only recipes that were scientifically tested to ensure a safe product.  This is a great time of year to look over old family recipes and tested recipes to see if you can find a tested recipe that will replicate that taste from long ago.

We have some great resources for tested recipes. Here are a few of our resources.

  1. The National Center for Home Food Preservation. This resource from the University of Georgia actually tests recipes and produces both a cookbook (So Easy to Preserve) and a website. Everything you see in either resource is guaranteed to be safe—and delicious.
  2. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach has Preserve the Taste of Summer publications. We also teach canning classes and have an on-line class for beginning canners.
  3. University of Minnesota. Both tested recipes and on-line instruction are available on their website.
  4. South Dakota State University. This information is also available on their website.
  5. Ball Blue Book and Complete Book of Home Preserving. Both recipe books are available at stores that carry canning supplies. Both versions were updated in 2016. They also have recipes available on their webpage.

Call us at AnswerLine or email us if you have a recipe that is hard to find and we will check to see if we can find a tested recipe that is similar to your old family recipe. Enjoy dreaming of spring; we are doing that at AnswerLine.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

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

More Posts - Website

Choosing a Home Safe

safeRecently loved ones were awaken during the night by an explosion and massive fire near their living unit.  Realizing the danger, they grabbed their cat, computers, and passports and fled along with their neighbors to safety.  Fortunately, they experienced no loss or significant damage.  However, in the days following, the ordeal made them realize that a home safe was something needed to protect essential documents that one doesn’t have time to grab in those split seconds of escape.  So began the quest to find a home safe to fit their needs and available space.

Buying a safe should be a relatively easy task, right?  Actually, it can be a daunting task with the variety of different features, levels of protection, model numbers, certifications, sizes, and locks;  soon they were asking for help.  As we navigated the ‘waters of safe buying,’ here’s what we learned along the way.

  • A safe that isn’t safe, really isn’t a safe at all. As with any product, some safes are better than others. Consumer Reports offers some insight into choosing a home safe as well as what essential documents might be kept in a safe at home.
  • Determine what is to be stored—valuable documents and records, cash, jewelry, guns, family photos or slides, tapes, CDs, DVDs.  High-value or irreplaceable items are best stored in a safe-deposit box at a bank.  Gather all items together to determine the size or volume needed for the possessions to be stored.  Avoid the temptation to include too many sentimental items if space is a premium.
  • Decide which perils to safeguard against—fire, water, theft.  Fire is the number one concern of most consumers.
  • Look for the Underwriters Laboratory (UL) or Interteck (ETL) security rating label that assures the safe has passed their tests for fire.  These two independent laboratories rate safes for fire-resistance (not fire-proof) based upon what type of materials they will protect, at what temperature, and for how long.  Their ratings should be on the safe as well as the packaging.  30 minutes of protection is the most common rating for a home safe but one might want to consider an hour.
  • Burglary resistance ratings are less common for home safes and may be labeled as a cash rating.  UL does test safes with common burglary tools and one may find a TL-15 rating which means that the safe can withstand 15 minutes of burglarizing attempts with common tools. A cash rating, when given, is calculated by the strength of the safe’s door and walls, the complexity of the locking mechanism, and the difficulty in removing the safe from its location; a higher cash rating generally equals more security.  In most cases, the weight of the safe will make it less attractive for thieves in a hurry.  Further, some safes come with optional bolt-down kits.  Others can be concealed in a wall or concrete floor.
  • Water resistance markings mean that the safe meets criteria for floods, broken water lines, or fires fought with water as determined by independent laboratories.  Some safes have a fire seal which prevents day-to-day moisture from entering the safe and in a fire, the seal expands to seal the safe tightly.
  • Opt for a combination lock rather than a keyed lock if possible.  Combinations can be kept in an off-site location.  However, keys are the most standard and basic option.  Keys do tend to get lost so if keys are the option, keep them in two different secure locations with an off-site note as to the locations.

In the end, a safe was purchased that we hope will meet their needs.  We hope that they never need to find out if it will withstand a fire or any other peril.  In making this purchase, they realized that it is just one piece of a household security plan that also includes a well-rehearsed emergency plan that focuses on personal safety first and foremost.

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.

More Posts

Oranges!

One of my husband’s favorite fruits is the orange. Since we are in the middle of the orange season, I thought it might be interesting to learn a bit more about the different varieties of oranges that are available to us in Iowa.

There are 2 different types of oranges; the sweet orange and the bitter orange. Bitter oranges are mostly grown to provide root stock for different varieties of sweet oranges, to flavor tea, or for use in perfumes.  Grocers do not generally carry bitter oranges.

There are a few different varieties of sweet oranges.

  • Common oranges: These are the most widely grown types of oranges.  The varieties most available at our grocery stores in the mid-west are Valencia and Hamlin.
  • Pigmented oranges or blood oranges: There are two types of blood oranges, light blood oranges and deep blood oranges.  The deep blood oranges have a deep maroon interior and an orange or orange red exterior.  These oranges have a deep rich flavor; sometimes with a hint of berry.  They are easy to peel and are available from December through mid-April.  Only one orange can provide a full day’s supply of vitamin C.
  • Naval oranges: These are the most common orange sold by grocers.  The varieties that you are likely to find at the grocery store include Cara Cara, Bahia, Dream naval, Late naval, and California naval. The small formation that resembles a navel on the blossom end of the fruit is an easy way to know you are looking at a naval orange.  These are one of the most popular varieties of orange; they are available from November through June.  They are seedless and easy to peel.  They are an excellent source of vitamin C.

I had always known that there are many choices when shopping for apples; I did not realize that there were this many choices when choosing oranges.

 

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

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

More Posts - Website

New Guidelines for Screen Time

Screen timeMany children probably received gifts with screens on them last Christmas. Digital media can have both positive and negative effects on healthy development.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently announced new recommendations for children’s media use. Research is still too new on the devices and their content, however educational, and how they could affect a young brain’s emotional and cognitive development but there are some basic guidelines to consider. What is most important is that parents monitor the media use and talk to children about it.

Here are the basics of the new recommendations:

Under 18 months ~ limit screen time to “video chatting” with family and friends and with a parent present

18 months to 5 years ~ One hour of “high quality” programing per day. It is best to have parent involvement watching along with their child to reinforce what they are seeing on the screen

6 years plus ~ balance media use with other healthy behaviors

Problems arise when children are allowed screen time in place of other activities such as physical activity, social face-to-face interaction, and sleeping. Communication and role modeling are key to the healthy use of screen time for children.

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.

More Posts

Making Sense of Clothing Care Labels

I was recently doing some laundry for a family member and double checking the care labels. If you are anything like me, some of them can be confusing! Here is a basic primer on care labels with links for more information if you are interested.

Anything wash related has a pictogram that looks like a wash tub with waves representing water on the top. If that is the only symbol showing, it is okay to wash the garment normally. Any lines under that tub indicate permanent press or a delicate/gentle cycle depending on the number of lines.

The bleach pictogram is a triangle. If there is a blank triangle, any bleach is okay to use when needed. If there are lines in the triangle, only non-chlorine bleach should be used when needed.

A square represents the dryer. A circle inside the square means normal drying. Again, any lines under that square would mean less heat on either the permanent press or delicate/gentle cycle depending on the number of lines. A blank circle in the square means any heat is okay while a darkened circle in the square means no heat/air only. Between those two extremes are circles with dots in. Three dots for high heat down to one dot for low heat.

The ironing symbol looks basically like an iron. Unless the pictogram shows lines representing steam coming from the bottom of the iron with those lines crossed out, you may use a dry or steam iron. Again, maximum temperatures for ironing are shown in dot form with three dots being high temperature down to one dot for low temperature.

A circle on its own is used for dry cleaning. An X through the circle means “Do Not Dry Clean”. Additional information in or around the circle is for the drycleaner.

The Federal Trade Commission enforces the Care Labeling Rule which requires manufacturers and importers to attach care instructions to garments.

This was a good refresher for me and I hope helps you read the care labels in your garments more easily.

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.

More Posts

Wild Black Walnuts Give a Variety of Options

If you want to know what brings the greed out in me, I’d have to say it is my new stash of shelled black walnuts.  Don’t ask—I’m not sharing!  If you’re new to black walnuts, you have no idea what a pain-stacking task it is to harvest, hull, cure, crack, and finally pick out the nut meat.  It’s a long and tedious process, but it is well worth the time and effort to me.  The nutmeats are hard to find and if you do, they are often expensive.  However, it’s the intense flavor that drives me to do it.

Black walnut is a generic term for the wild walnuts native to North America of which there are about five different varieties.  Also known as the American walnut, they are related to hickory nuts and butternuts.  Black walnuts differ greatly from white English walnuts which are gown in orchards and have a mild flavor.  Wild black walnuts have a strong, earthy flavor.  English walnuts are easily obtained and are larger, softer, and shell easily.  Black walnuts are harder to obtain and become an ‘operation’ to acquire.  And once you have them, store them in the freezer to keep these precious ‘gems’ indefinitely.

Missouri leads the nation in wild black walnut production.  However, black walnuts are found throughout the USA and I’m lucky to live among several black walnut trees in central Iowa.  I’ll spare you the details of harvesting, hulling, curing, cracking, and shelling or picking as you can read all about it online.  One important detail to keep in mind is that black walnut juice stains everything so you’ll want to be careful where and how you do your processing.  And lastly, getting the nutmeat from the intricate shell is tedious thereby earning each and every bit and piece.  Patience is a virtue.  I harvested the nuts in October and just recently cracked and picked enough nuts to make my favorite black walnut treat.

Low in saturated fat, high in unsaturated fat, and a good source of protein, black walnuts are a delicious, healthful food. In addition, the nutmeat contains vitamin A, iron, minerals and fiber and serves as a cholesterol- and sugar-free snack or ingredient.   One can boost the nutritional value of favorite foods by adding black walnuts to salads, yogurt, and oatmeal.   Toasted black walnuts make a tasty addition to trail mix for a healthy snack. Commonly used in baked products, black walnuts are being used by chefs in creative ways to take their fish and chicken dishes up a notch.  Black walnuts can be used in various ways or in any recipe that calls for nuts.  However, with a strong, rich, smoky flavor you’ll want to choose recipes that can feature the black walnut flavor or use it sparingly as it will overpower everything else. It is suggested that you combine one part black walnuts to three parts English walnuts in recipes where just a little flavor is wanted.

A good place to start looking for black walnut recipes is at https://black-walnuts.com/  My mother’s Black Walnut Refrigerator Cookies has long been a favorite and something I look forward to each year.  The recipe follows and YES, I do share cookies!

Black Walnut Refrigerator Cookies
1 cup butter
2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
3 ½ cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 cup black walnuts

Beat the butter and sugar until smooth.  Add the eggs, one at a time, allowing each egg to blend into the sugar/margarine mixture. Mix in the flour, soda, and salt until just incorporated.  If dough is a little too soft, add a little more flour. Fold in the chopped nuts; mixing just enough to evenly combine.  Scrape the dough onto a sheet of waxed paper and form into a log. Roll tightly in the waxed paper and refrigerate until firm, about 4 hours.  Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Spray baking sheets with cooking spray.  Unwrap the dough, and cut into 1/4-inch slices. Place the cookies onto baking sheets spacing 1-inch apart. Bake in the preheated oven until the edges are golden, about 12 minutes. Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 1 minute before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

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.

More Posts