Storing chocolate

If your sweetie got you some chocolates for Valentine’s Day, you may be wondering just how long you can safely keep them. I did a little research and discovered that you can store that box of chocolate longer than you may have thought.

Chocolate should be stored at temperatures that are slightly cooler than room temperature. Try to keep them between 60° and 70° Fahrenheit. At these temperatures, they should keep well for at least six months. If you need to store them longer, consider storing in the refrigerator or freezer. Chocolates will keep for a year in the refrigerator and for a year and a half in the freezer.

If your sweetie went all out and bought some handmade or premium chocolates, enjoy them now. These chocolates have a much shorter shelf life and will keep for 2-3 weeks in the refrigerator or for 3-6 months in the freezer.

Chocolates will absorb odors from their surroundings so store them in the box they came in or place the box into a freezer bag and keep it sealed. Enjoy that special treat.

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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Baking bread

Baking bread is a creative outlet for me and satisfies that “need to bake”.  I started searching for the perfect white bread recipe last November.  I’ve been baking two loaves a week since then.  The first recipe I tried made a loaf that we thought was a bit dry.  I’ve been using this recipe since early December.  I like it and we always get a nice tender, light loaf.  It just takes me a short time to mix up the dough.  Proofing (or letting the bread rise) takes a couple of hours and baking takes about 35 minutes. 

I usually use my bread machine to make the dough for rolls and then take the dough out of the bread machine pan and shape and bake it. I like to use my mixer to knead the bread. Using the mixer for a specific time, 8 minutes for this recipe, ensures a similar result every time.

Of course, not every bread recipe requires kneading.  King Arthur Flour had this recipe as their recipe of the year last year.  My son made some when we were visiting last week and we enjoyed the nick crusty, rustic loaf.  If you want to try something super easy with guaranteed great results, give this recipe a try. This recipe would not be appropriate for a 4-H member to take to the fair if they allow it to raise for more than one day in the refrigerator.  Call AnswerLine if you have any questions about using this recipe.

I love to get some bread started early on a Saturday morning and let it proof while I’m doing laundry and other chores around the house.  This way we have some nice fresh bread to start the week, and a great treat of warm from the oven bread before lunch.  Try some homemade bread this weekend.  Or on a snow day.

 

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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Be prepared for a winter storm

As I write this, I’m at home waiting to see if the next big winter storm will hit. Over the years, I’ve learned that as winter approaches I need to check the pantry to make sure I have enough staples to make it through being snowed in for a couple of days. Since I live on a farm, we usually have a freezer (or two) filled with enough beef and pork to provide meals for several months. When the kids lived at home, we always had a big garden and canned and froze a variety of fruits and vegetables. Now that it is just my husband and myself, I always try to have a variety of commercially canned and frozen vegetables and fruits on hand. As long as I keep my flour, sugar, and oil containers reasonably full, I know that I can bake just about anything else we might need. Keeping powdered dry milk on hand also helps me avoid the grocery store when everyone else is rushing in to pick up that loaf of bread and gallon of milk. We don’t really enjoy drinking reconstituted milk, but when you need milk for baking it is great to have some in the house.

We have blogged over the years about keeping a winter kit inside the car with items you may need if you get stuck in the snow. I try to check my kit before Christmas so that I have those things fully stocked when the first big storm hits. We have also blogged about understanding weather terms and just how to prepare your home and pets to stay safe. We are lucky to live in a time when it is so easy to wait out a winter storm and stay safe.

I’m still waiting for those first snow flakes to fall.

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

Planning a 4-H exhibit wisely

It hardly seems possible, but we are beginning to get calls and emails from 4-H members about projects for county fair. Many members are planning food preservation projects for the fair. This is a great time of year to preserve food, especially canned foods. Many members choose to can jams or jellies, vegetables, fruit, and even meat.

Home food preservation has some stricter rules than other food products that you may want to exhibit. ALL home food preservation exhibits must be made using research based information. This includes the USDA canning guide, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach publications (Preserve the Taste of Summer), anything from the University of Georgia’s National Center for Home Food Preservation or their So Easy to Preserve book, a recent Ball Blue Book (or anything on their website). Additionally, the printed directions in a pectin package or Mrs. Wage’s products may be used. We do not consider old family recipes to be research based, nor recipes from the neighbor, church cookbooks, or Better Homes and Gardens or random websites.

It is important to remember that Pinterest by itself is not a resource. Pinterest is more like an index. Each Pinterest post connects to a website. If you follow the post back to the webpage, that would be your resource.

If you decide to prepare a baked product, the recipe does NOT need to be listed in an approved resource or research based. Cookbooks are great resources for recipes as the recipes listed in them have been tested to ensure the product turns out as expected. Recipes from random websites likely were not been tested and you may not end up with the product you expect. That does not mean you are not allowed to use these recipes, but you may wind up wasting time and ingredients.

There are some limits on what baked or cooked foods can be safely exhibited at a fair. We have a resource to help members know what products can be exhibited and what products may need to be prepared at home and photographed for entry to the fair. In the case of a food requiring refrigeration, like a pumpkin pie, it is fine to bake and taste at home. Bring only the write up and pictures. Since the judge will not see the pie, remember to make a very thorough write-up to take to the fair. This method works as long as the product is considered safe to eat normally. Making an unsafe product, such as using a water bath canner instead of a pressure canner for green beans can neither be exhibited at the fair nor exhibited through the use or a write-up with pictures.

Reports or posters on nutrition or the effects of a certain vitamin or mineral do need to use research-based information. It is important to provide accurate information when reporting to the public. Members will want to use the same effort to report on a nutrition topic as they would when writing a report for school.

This is only a short list of the mistakes it is easy for members to make when planning an exhibit for their County Fair. Remember that AnswerLine is only a phone call (1-800-262-3804) or email (answer@iastate.edu) away. Contact us, we love to help.

 

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

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving

from your friends at AnswerLine

Liz, Beth, Marcia, and Marlene

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

Thanksgiving Food Safety Tips

This is your friendly reminder to keep your friends and family safe this Thanksgiving. We speak a lot about food safety this time of year. Here are some tips to remember.

  1. Remember to wash your hands often. Use soap and wash for at least 20 seconds.
  2. Resist the urge to wash your turkey. Washing will not make it safer to eat and the splash of water from the turkey will cross contaminate other parts of your kitchen.
  3. The safest way to make stuffing or dressing is to cook it outside the bird.
  4. Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. In some families, the tradition is to leave food out on the table all afternoon so people can nibble a bit more. This is a recipe for food bourne illness. Leave leftovers on the table for less than two hours. The clock starts ticking on the two hours as food comes out of the oven or refrigerator.
  5. Cool leftovers quickly. Store them in shallow pans separated in the refrigerator or freezer. Storing leftovers on the back porch or garage is NOT a good idea. Store them in a refrigerator set between 32°F and 40°F. Closer to 32°F is best.
  6. Use separate cutting boards for raw meat, cooked meat, and vegetables.
  7. Keep that pumpkin pie in the refrigerator.
  8. Use a meat thermometer to know when your turkey is done. Cook to 165°F.
  9. Use or freeze your leftovers within 3-5 days.
  10. Call AnswerLine if you have any questions. We really do love to help.
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

Talkin’ Turkey

Thanksgiving is the busiest time of the year at AnswerLine. Most callers eat turkey only one or two times a year and often do not’ feel comfortable preparing turkey for guests. We are always happy to talk turkey with callers.

We often get these questions:

  1. How large a turkey should I buy? You should plan on two and a half or three servings per pound. Buy a larger bird if leftovers are important to you.
  2. How soon can I buy a fresh turkey? Use your fresh turkey within two days. Call us for advice if you buy your turkey too early.
  3. How long does it take to thaw a turkey? Plan on 24 hours for each 4-5 pounds of turkey. Remember to thaw it in the refrigerator.  Once thawed, use within two days.
  4. Oh my, I forgot to take my turkey out of the freezer. What can I do? You have two options. You can cook a frozen turkey, just remember to take the giblets and neck out of the cavity after an hour or so. Plan to cook the frozen turkey for one and a half times longer than a thawed bird. Or you can use the cold-water method. Thaw the turkey by leaving it in the plastic wrapper and place in a sink full of cold water. This method takes about 30 minutes per pound to thaw. Change the water every half hour. I was a bit skeptical the first time I tried this method, but it does work well.
  5. What temperature should I set the oven for turkey? 325°F
  6. If you want to cook the turkey the day before Thanksgiving, call us for advice.

These are the top turkey questions callers ask every year. Please call us with all of your questions. We love to help.

 

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

Tips for planning Thanksgiving

Callers often want to get ready for Thanksgiving as soon as possible. They often call to see just how far ahead of time they can begin preparing food. Here are some tips from AnswerLine staff to help you get ready and still keep your guests safe.

  1. In early November, compile your list of guests. Keep in mind any food allergies and favorite and least favorite foods.
  2. In that same period, begin putting a menu together. Do you want to have a traditional meal or would you enjoy trying something new?
  3. After deciding on a menu, gather recipes. If you want to try something new, you may want to make a dish in advance to ensure it will be what you expect on the big day. If you have a tradition of asking guests to contribute a dish, be sure to get them the recipe you have chosen so that they have time to buy the ingredients needed.
  4. Plan seating for your guests. Do you have enough chairs and tables? Do you need a larger tablecloth? Do you have enough place settings and serving pieces? If they are a bit dusty, consider getting them out and washing in advance.
  5. Plan the order of cooking for the foods you have chosen. Consider which dishes may be prepared ahead of time and frozen. If guests will be contributing a dish, think about how to keep it hot or cold before serving. Make room in your refrigerator ahead of time.
  6. Clean your house and set your tables a day or two in advance of the holiday.
  7. Cut up fresh vegetables the day before Thanksgiving. Peel your potatoes early Thanksgiving morning.
  8. When making foods with many ingredients, remember that you can measure out ingredients ahead of time so when the time comes to put a dish together, you can easily make it without measuring. Cut onions and celery for dressing the night before and take them out of the refrigerator on Thanksgiving to make that stuffing at the last minute.
  9. Follow your order of cooking and check your menu often on Thanksgiving so that everything is ready in time to serve.
  10. Remember that we are available to answer any questions you may have about Thanksgiving. Call from 9-4 the week of Thanksgiving. We will not be leaving the office those three days for lunch. You can email us or ask a question on our Facebook page.
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

Gourds

If you grew gourds in your garden this summer, you may be interested in how to preserve them. If you just want to display them from now until Christmas, follow the first two steps. If you want to keep them indefinitely, follow all four steps listed below. Gourds dried completely will not retain their bright colors but will be great if you want to paint them or make them into a birdhouse.

  1. Pick gourds when they are fully mature. At maturity, the stem attached to the fruit begins to dry and turn brown. Cut the gourds from the vines with a hand shears, leaving a few inches of stem attached to the fruit. Handle the gourds carefully as the skin is susceptible to bruising or scratching.
  2. Gently wash the gourds in soapy water and rinse in a solution of water and chlorine bleach. This should destroy decay organisms, which could lead to fruit rot. Gently dry each gourd with a soft cloth.
  3. Dry the gourds by spreading them on several layers of newspaper in a warm, well-ventilated place such as a porch, garage or shed. Place the gourds in a single layer, spacing them so that they do not touch one another. Avoid sunny areas as colors may fade. Rotate them every 2 or 3 days, gently wiping with a dry cloth to remove moisture. Promptly remove any which begin to rot.
  4. Drying or curing may take up to several weeks. To hasten drying of large decorative gourds, make small holes in the bottom of the fruit with an ice pick or nail. The gourds will feel lighter in weight, and the seeds will rattle when the gourds are fully dry.

Once cured, the gourds can be used in their natural state. They may also be painted, waxed, shellacked or varnished for crafts.

These gourds will make a great Thanksgiving centerpiece or fun seasonal decorations around the house.

 

 

 

 

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

Fall Garden Relish

Now that fall has arrived calls the number of calls to AnswerLine on canning are slowing down. Some caller’s gardens are no longer producing, some callers have filled both freezer and shelves with canned produce, and some callers are just getting tired of canning. We are still getting calls on pickling, making sauerkraut and pickling other vegetables. Several years ago, the National Center for Home Food Preservation came out with this Fall Garden Relish. The recipe uses a few of several different vegetables, which helps you, use up those last few vegetables from the garden. Even if you are not a typical canner, you can make some to store in the refrigerator and use up within a few weeks. Enjoy.

 

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

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