Storing caramel apples

carmel-applesYou can buy caramel apples year round these days but what fun to make yourself and how delicious they are this time of year when such a wide variety of apples are so plentiful.

When you make them keep in mind caramel has a low amount of water and apples are acidic so neither are normally breeding grounds for Listeria but piercing an apple with a dipping stick causes a bit of apple juice to leak out and become trapped under a layer of caramel. This creates an environment that aids the growth of Listeria already present on the apple’s surface.

Listeria growth occurs more quickly when a caramel apple is stored at room temperature compared to refrigeration. Caramel apples should stay fresh up to one week if refrigerated.

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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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

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

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

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

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

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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