Fajita Seasoning

The temperature is so cold today that it is a perfect day to stay inside.  I like to take advantage of these kind of days to mix up some spice blends that I will use year round.  One of my favorites is a fajita seasoning mix from a recipe that I found on the internet years ago.  I have been making it ever since.  The combination of spices and the addition of cornstarch make great flavor and it thickens up sauces when used on both meats and vegetables.  I now provide jars of this seasoning to my extended family as well!  You can be assured that they let me know when their jars are getting empty!  There are many combinations of spices that can be put together, but here is the recipe that I use.

If you are interested in other spice mixes check out these recipes from North Dakota State Extension.

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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 Creativity In The Kitchen

This is a big month for our family. In addition to expecting a new grand baby, we are also celebrating a birthday for the baby’s older brother! Since both events are happening within a few weeks, the grandma’s have gotten involved to help plan a birthday party. One of our favorite books to read to our grandson is The Little Blue Truck series of books. Therefore, what could be better than to plan a Little Blue Truck birthday party!

After looking for party ideas on Pinterest, Grandma Nyla and I have come up with a menu. We will be making pigs in a blanket, Rice Krispy treat hay bales, wheel shaped macaroni and cheese, Chex mix (chicken feed), deviled eggs (farm fresh eggs), carrot and celery stick with dip (farm fresh produce) and pulled pork sandwiches. Quite a combination of foods, but all contributing to the theme of the party!

My undertaking was to try to make little blue truck cookies. After checking at numerous kitchen stores in multiple cities, I finally decided that if I wanted the truck shape I would make my own pattern. After drawing the truck in the size that I wanted, I printed two copies on card stock. I used double stick tape to connect the two pieces together to make it a little sturdier. Using a sharp knife to cut around the edges of my rolled out cookie dough and I had my truck cookies. Since the pattern was thicker due to the two layers and the heavier card stock, I had no problems cutting around them with the knife.

I have frozen the cookies and they are ready to decorate as the party approaches! I did decorate one cookie so I could see how it would look and I am pleased to say that when my grandson came for a visit last week he picked up the cookie and started driving it on the counter! I would say that is a true sign of success!

Making my own cookie cutter was actually a fun challenge! Do not hesitate to let your creative juices flow and design your own. I have even more ideas for next Christmas!

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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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Making Scones

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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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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Avoiding Wasp Stings

Last year we were at a professional golf tournament and I felt something land in my hair. As I was trying to brush it away I got stung on my hand. I quickly removed my ring and watch as my hand started to swell! Fortunately it was not in a spot where it could be life threatening like in the mouth or throat. My natural instinct is to wave my arms and run away but I know that is not what I should do!

Here were some very helpful tips from Iowa State University Integrated Pest Management on how to avoid getting stung:

  • Avoid moving quickly when a bee/wasp comes near you since they are more likely to sting when you surprise them.
  • If a yellowjacket lands on you try and wait for it to fly off. (I wish I thought about this before I got stung)
  • Smashing yellowjackets releases an alarm pheromone that sends a signal to other yellowjackets in the area to attack.
  • Be sure and look in cups or cans of pop containing sugary drinks. They like sweet liquids and can sometimes sneak into pop cans or cups. Drinking through a straw would keep you from getting stung if a bee would like to share your drink.

If you happen to get stung near the throat or mouth call 911 and get some ice to help reduce swelling. This can be life threatening if it causes your throat to swell shut. Anyone who is hypersensitive to stings needs special attention. Watch for signs like dizziness, difficulty breathing or skin color changes and go to the emergency room right away.

Nonallergic reactions to stings include pain, itching, redness and swelling. This can last for up to a day or two after the sting. After getting stung wash the area as quickly as possible around the sting to try and remove some of the venom. Using ice will help to reduce some of the swelling. An antihistamine can help with the swelling and discomfort that comes from a sting. If you are at home, try applying a paste of meat tenderizer and water to the sting spot to help break down the venom which also helps with the swelling and pain.

I hope that you can enjoy the time spent outside and stay free of stings! But if you do get stung you will know the best course of action.

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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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Add Some Avocado to Your Meals

Avocados have been a great price at the grocery store lately. I love to make guacamole and cut them up to put on salads but there are many other ways that you can eat them.  Here are a few suggestions to add more avocadoes to your diet.

  • Slice and put on sandwiches.
  • Add avocado to a homemade salad dressing.
  • Mash it and spread it on toast.
  • Use avocado instead of mayonnaise to make chicken salad.
  • Spread on bagels.
  • Use as a topper for baked potatoes.
  • Add them to a smoothie.

Avocados are harvested before they are ripe so expect that they will be firm to touch at the grocery store. To tell when your avocado is ready to eat place them in your palm and they should yield to gentle pressure. Avoid using your fingertips to tell if it is ripe since that could cause bruising and dark spots on the inside.  If your avocado is still firm and you want to use it more quickly stick it in a brown paper bag with an apple in it at room temperature. That will speed up the ripening process.  Remember don’t put your avocado in the refrigerator until it is ripe. Once ripe they can be stored in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.

Once your avocado is cut and exposed to air it can start to turn dark. To help keep it from turning dark after you cut it sprinkle or brush lemon or lime juice or white vinegar over the exposed area.  Then wrap with clear plastic wrap and store in an air tight container in the refrigerator.  If it gets dark cut off the top layer and the green fruit underneath is perfectly fine to eat.

Hopefully these suggestions have given you some ideas on ways to add avocados to your meals. They are a healthy and tasty addition!  For a few tips on cutting and peeling watch this video from the California Avocado Commission.

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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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Baby Proofing for Cameron

Our grandson has just turned one and is starting to walk more. As exciting as that is, it also reminds me that I need to do even more babyproofing to our house!  With the help of several wonderful Extension publications these are the steps that I have taken so far:

  • I have purchased baby gates for the stairs going both up and down. Even with a door that closes it could still be opened by a toddler. The basement baby gate can be moved to the bottom of the basement stairs when we are playing in the basement.
  • Latches have been attached to my kitchen and bathroom closets where I keep cleaning supplies.
  • Medications have been moved from a lower drawer in my bathroom to a high cabinet.
  • Furniture has been moved away from windows.
  • Cords for the computer, television, phone chargers etc. are out of reach. This includes keeping the baby monitor far enough away from the crib that it can’t be grabbed.
  • The cords on the blinds have been securely attached to the wall.
  • I discarded the car seats that I had stored in our attic from our kids. They now come with expiration dates and are made much safer! That was the same for the crib that we used raising our kids. The slats were too far apart so I opted for a new portable crib that is easy to set up.
  • I keep my purse off the floor when I am babysitting so there is no risk of getting into medication I keep in there.

One thing that really helped me was to look through the house at a toddler level. By getting on your hands and knees you can see things that might interest a toddler that you don’t notice when you are standing up.  I want to have a child friendly house where our kids feel comfortable leaving our grandson with us and they know that we have done everything we can to keep him safe.  Here are some resources with even more ideas for babyproofing.

http://extension.uga.edu/publications/detail.cfm?number=C1049#title6

http://umm.edu/programs/childrens/health/about/child-proof-your-home

http://www.med.umich.edu/yourchild/topics/safehome.htm

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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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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!

 

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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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Putting Your Canner to Bed

canner1This is the time of year when the garden has stopped producing and it is time to think about storing your canning equipment.   If you spend time in the fall to clean and pack your canner and supplies your equipment will be ready to go when your produce is ready to harvest in the spring.

Here are some tips from the National Center for Home Food Preservation that you can do:

Begin with your canner.

  • Check and clean your vent and safety valve. Clean the vent by drawing a small cloth or string through the opening. In order for it to operate it needs to be free of any food or debris. Clean the valve by removing it if possible or by following the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Check your gasket. The gasket is what seals the canner and keeps steam from leaking when canning. If you need to replace your gasket order a new one from a hardware store that sells canning supplies or from the manufacturer. It is better to do this now than having to wait for one to be ordered when you are ready to use your canner.
  • Dial gauge canner need to be tested yearly. Call us at AnswerLine and we will be able to tell you where you can have your canner dial gauge tested. If your gauge is off you will have time to get a new gauge ordered before spring. Weighted gauge canners do not need to be tested.
  • If the inside of your canner has turned dark fill the canner above the dark line with a mixture of 1 tablespoon cream of tartar to each quart of water. Put the canner on the stove and heat to boiling. Boil covered until the dark deposits are gone. Dump out the water and finish cleaning with soapy water. If you struggle with hard water try adding 1 tablespoon of white vinegar to the water in the canner when you are processing your jars.
  • Store your canner with crumpled clean paper towels inside. This will help absorb any moisture. Place the lid upside down on the canner. Never store it with the lid sealed.

Now check on your jars and lids.

  • Look over all of your jars for any chips or cracks. By taking the time now you can prevent jar breakage during canning.
  • Make sure to remove all rings from the home canned foods when storing them. Wash and dry them completely and store them in a dry place. Bands can be reused unless they rust.
  • The flat lids can only be used once so discard after using the jar of food. If you have some flats left over, write the date on the package. The sealing compound should be good for 3 to 5 years after purchase if stored in a cool dry place.

Remember to use your home canned foods within a year or two years at the longest.

By taking the time now to “put your canner to bed” you will be ready when the warmer days of spring come and the canning season begins again!

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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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Preserving Pumpkin Safely

pie-pumpkin1Its fall and time to visit your local pumpkin farm to get pumpkins and gourds to decorate your house. Carving pumpkins and roasting the seeds is a tradition for many families including ours.  While you are there getting jack-o-lanterns why not get a pie pumpkin as well.  These are the pumpkins grown for use in pies, breads and bars.  They are sweeter and have less water in them than the traditional carving pumpkins which tend to have a stringy flesh.

If you are cooking a pie pumpkin this year remember that pumpkin puree cannot be safely canned at home.  The best way to preserve puree would be to freeze it.  To freeze simply wash the pumpkin and cut into cooking size pieces and remove the seeds.  It can be cooked in boiling water, in steam, in the oven or in a pressure cooker.  Cook until soft then remove pulp from rind and mash the pulp.  Place the pumpkin puree bowl in another bowl filled with cold water and stir occasionally till cool. Package in freezer containers in the size you want to use (2 cups equals 1 can).  Remember to thaw it in the refrigerator when you are ready to use it.

If you would prefer to pressure can pumpkin it can only be done in cubes and in a pressure canner.  The steps to can cubed pumpkin are to first wash and remove the seeds.  Next cut the pumpkin into 1 inch wide slices.  Then peel and cut the flesh into 1 inch cubes.  Blanch in boiling water for 2 minutes.  Fill the jars with the cubes and cover with the cooking liquid leaving 1 inch headspace.  Process according to your altitude using this chart from The National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Pumpkin can be dried or made into fruit leather. To dry cut strips no more than one inch wide by 1/8 inch thick.  Steam the strips over boiling water for 3 minutes then dip in cold water to stop the heating process.  Drain well then dehydrate in a food dehydrator until brittle.  For making pumpkin fruit leather use pumpkin puree and spices with this recipe from The National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Be sure to follow safe preservation methods when dealing with pumpkin. Using safe freezing and canning methods will allow you to enjoy your pumpkin all winter!

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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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Preparing your home for winter

fall-tree1The leaves on the trees are turning beautiful colors outside our windows reminding us that fall is here and winter is on its way! Is your home ready for winter?  Doing some simple tasks now can reduce your utility bills and keep problems away.

  • Clean out your gutters. The leaves and debris can cause water to back up. In the fall that could cause water to overflow and instead of being diverted away from your house it could cause basement water problems. In the winter frozen water from thawing snow can cause ice dams that can cause moisture damage to your roof and interior ceiling. Running water through the gutter will also show if there are leaks that need to be fixed.
  • Have your furnace checked. Regular maintenance of both your air conditioning and furnace will keep them running well. There is nothing worse than waking up on a cold morning and not having the furnace working! Changing the furnace filter regularly will help with utility costs since air does not circulate well through dirty filters.
  • Check the weather stripping on doors and windows. Sealing gaps around doors and windows will keep cold air out and warm air in.
  • If you have a wood burning fireplace be sure and have the chimney inspected. Regular cleaning can keep soot or creosol from depositing inside the chimney. Regular cleaning reduces the risk of a chimney fire.
  • Change the batteries in your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.   This should be done once a year. Test the detectors monthly to make sure they are working properly.
  • Since the days are shorter replace light bulbs with LED or CFL lights. These ENERGY STAR bulbs last longer and save you a lot of money on your electric bills. When you are decorating for the holidays look for LED Christmas lights.
  • Make sure you drain your outdoor hoses and store them in the garage for the winter. Drain any irrigation system and rain barrels that you have been using this summer. Allowing water to freeze can cause damage that you will find in the spring.

Many of these items can be done without hiring a professional. By spending some time in the fall you will enjoy the energy saving and the peace of mind knowing you are ready for the snow to fly!

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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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