Maple Syrup

December 17th is National Maple Syrup Day. I will try to recognize that day by using some delicious maple syrup I was recently given as a gift!

Even though you will find pancake syrup and maple syrup next to each other on your grocery store shelves, they are not the same thing. Maple syrup is a pure product and contains no additives or preservatives. The maple syrup we find in containers begins it’s life as sugar in the leaves of maples, produced by the process of photosynthesis. The sugars are transported into the wood for winter storage in the form of carbohydrates. In the spring they are converted to sucrose and dissolved in the sap to flow through the tree. After that sap is collected it is boiled down to reduce the water content and concentrate the sugars. Those sugars caramelize giving us the characteristic color and flavor of maple syrup. It takes about 43 gallons of sap boiled down to make a gallon of maple syrup.

Pancake syrup is a highly processed product. It is made from corn syrup or high-fructose corn syrup. Pancake syrup also has coloring, flavoring, and preservatives added to it.

Sometimes you will hear maple syrup praised as being a “natural” sweetener and better for you than regular sugar. Maple syrup does contain more of some nutrients than table sugar but is definitely not considered a health food. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines have now recommended a limit of no more than 10% of your daily calories come from added sugars.

In March 2015, the United States Department of Agriculture implemented changes in the labeling system for syrup so it matches up with international standards. All maple syrup is now Grade A, followed by a color/flavor description. The changes are as follows:

Grade A Light Amber is now Grade A Golden Color/Delicate Taste

Grade A Medium Amber is now Grade A Amber Color/Rich Taste

Grade A Dark Amber is now Grade A Dark Color/Robust Taste

Grade B is now Grade A Very Dark Color/Strong Taste

Once you have opened a container of maple syrup you should store it in the refrigerator where it will last six months to a year. You can also freeze maple syrup which will keep it safe indefinitely. If you are going to freeze it, put it in an airtight container and leave a half inch of headspace to allow for the maple syrup to expand.

If your maple syrup develops an off odor, flavor, or appearance or mold appears you will need to discard it. You should also discard the maple syrup if the bottle it is in is leaking, rusting, bulging or is severely dented.

If you are a fan of maple syrup I hope you will enjoy some on National Maple Syrup Day!

 

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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Green Bean Casserole

Originally called “Green Bean Bake”, we know the recipe as Green Bean Casserole today. It is a favorite Holiday side dish at my house and in many others too I’m sure. You may not know that the inventor of this recipe recently passed away. Her name was Dorcas Reilly and she was 92 years old when she passed away on October 15, 2018.

Dorcas was working as a supervisor in the home economics department of a Campbell’s test kitchen in New Jersey in 1955 when she was given an assignment to create a recipe using ingredients any cook would have on hand at home including Campbell’s mushroom soup and green beans. The recipe she and her team came up with consisted of just six ingredients: Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup, milk, soy sauce, black pepper, green beans, and crunchy fried onions. She has said she and her team talked about adding celery salt and ham to the recipe but decided to just keep it simple with minimal prep time needed, affordable ingredients that could be stirred together, and a short amount of bake time. Plus the recipe worked well with canned or frozen green beans. Cheap, fuss-free cooking was all the rage for post-War America at that time. More women were entering the workforce and looking for easy-to-make meals. Convenience cooking was starting to take off since wartime rations had been lifted on canned goods and new innovations in canning and freezing made packaged foods more accessible than ever.

The “Green Bean Bake” became very popular once Campbell’s started printing the recipe on the side of their cream of mushroom soup cans. That was not the only recipe Dorcas and her team were credited for helping create however. She was also a part of the team that created the tuna noodle casserole and Sloppy Joe’s made from tomato soup recipes. Dorcas has been quoted as saying she was very proud of the “Green Bean Bake” recipe and pleasantly shocked when she realized how popular it had become. Her hand-written original recipe card even made it into the archives of the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio.

Over the years people have changed the recipe a bit to make it a better fit for their family. Here are two lighter versions of the original recipe: One is from Campbell’s and one is from the American Heart Association.

I will be thinking of Dorcas this Holiday season as my family enjoys a traditional green bean casserole!

 

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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Safe Tailgating

Tailgating is in full swing in our area and what fun everyone has! Whether you are the person that plans the menu, prepares the food, sets everything up, or just enjoys, it is important to take precautions to keep everyone safe. According to the CDC, 1 in 6 Americans gets sick from foodborne illnesses every year. It is estimated that over half of those cases are related to improper hand washing. If your venue does not have hand washing stations readily available consider taking water and soap along specifically for hand washing. Proper hand washing with soap and water for 20 seconds is always your best line of defense. If that is not feasible, take plenty of antibacterial wipes along and after using them follow up with an alcohol based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol which is very effective in killing harmful microorganisms. Most commercial hand sanitizers contain that percentage of alcohol or close to it.

Bacteria cannot be seen, smelled, or tasted and multiply rapidly in the Danger Zone – 40 degrees to 140 degrees F. It is very important to not let foods remain in this Danger Zone for more than two hours. If the temperature outside is 90 degrees or higher that time frame drops to 1 hour. Pack your cooler the last thing before leaving home for the tailgate and put foods directly from the refrigerator or freezer into the cooler with sufficient ice or ice packs to keep the temperature inside the cooler at 40 degrees or colder. Raw meat and poultry should be wrapped tightly to prevent contamination of other foods. A separate cooler is recommended for beverages as it is opened frequently which allows the internal temperature of the cooler to increase. If you won’t be serving the food soon after your arrival at the tailgate, keep the food in the cooler.

To keep hot food hot, insulated thermoses work well. Fill the thermos with boiling water, let stand for a few minutes, then empty and fill with your hot food before you leave. If you have access to electricity a crock pot works well to keep hot foods above the Danger Zone during the tailgate. If you do not eat all the hot foods you have taken, be sure to put any leftovers in your cooler with enough ice before you head to the game.

If you are planning to grill as part of your tailgate, the only safe way to make sure your meat has cooked to the correct internal temperature is to take and use a calibrated food thermometer.

So what foods should you be cautious of when tailgating and which foods would be considered always safe? Be cautious of foods that are high in protein like meat, milk and dishes/casseroles containing eggs as well as marinades, potatoes, and pie (especially cream pies). Often part of the fun at a tailgate is preparing the food while you are there. However from a safety standpoint, single-serving, pre-packaged foods are the best. There would be far less people touching the food limiting the chances of contamination. Dry foods and those high in sugar are safe bets as well. Things like breads, cakes, and cookies. Fresh fruits and vegetables are also good choices.

Enjoy the rest of tailgate season!

 

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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Plastic Straw Ban

There has been quite a controversy lately surrounding the reduction in use or ban on plastic straws. The goal, of course, is to help protect the environment. Straws are a small fraction of all plastic waste but the movement to ban plastic straws is definitely growing. Major corporations (Starbucks, American Airlines) have announced they will phase out plastic straws. Seattle recently became the first major city to institute a ban on plastic straws. California became the first state to officially adopt plastic straw regulations. The food service industry there is being banned from making plastic straws available unless requested.

The merits of a plastic straw ban depend on who you ask. Those pushing the idea consider plastic straws to be a “product of convenience” or a “symbol of waste”. They would like all straws to be biodegradable and have offered some alternative materials – paper, pasta, bamboo, and hay – for straws to be made out of. Criticism has come from disability advocates. Paper straws can cause difficulties for those individuals who have difficulty swallowing. Reusable straws, like those pictured above, can be potentially hazardous.

The University of Georgia was recently awarded a grant to develop a totally biodegradable straw. It will be interesting to follow this story. It will take time for them to develop some prototypes and go through the approval process however.

As a consumer, I think it is important to research ahead of time what our options might be if straws do indeed disappear.

 

 

 

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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Bed Bugs

A single bed bug on a blanket fiber There is a lot of moving going on in the area I live. Many leases are turning over August 1st or September 1st. I have seen lots of furniture on the curb for free and there are several places that offer furniture swaps or sell the used furniture at bargain prices. There are also a number of people giving their used furniture away to friends they know that could use it.

I had a caller yesterday concerned about her college-aged son getting a free couch from a friend. Her main concern was if bed bugs might be present. She did not want him to be affected by that or to introduce bed bugs into his apartment. That is a legitimate concern for sure.

Bed bugs are a headache and can be difficult to get rid of on your own. The first thing you need to do is make sure there really are bed bugs present. The EPA and the University of Kentucky have great websites with pictures for identifying, preventing, and getting rid of bed bugs. It can be very difficult to get rid of bed bugs yourself. Most often it is necessary to contact a pest control company to come and rid your infested areas of bed bugs.

Besides being concerned about used furniture you might pick up, traveling can also be a concern. The EPA has tips for travel when you are staying in a hotel room. Since bed bugs are most active at night when you are sleeping it is a good idea to be diligent when you check into your room. It takes only a few minutes and can prevent a lot of hassles for you.

Bed bugs were practically eradicated a few decades ago but infestations have increased dramatically in recent years due to changes in pest control practices, less effective insecticides due to bed bugs being more resistant and the general population not being as vigilant as we should be.

Bed bugs do not favor any socioeconomic class or level of cleanliness. They can be anywhere. I hope none of us ever has to personally deal with them but if you do or know of others who are dealing with them, I hope the research based sites mentioned above are helpful.

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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Tangzhong

I enjoy browsing my favorite internet sites on a regular basis to see if there is anything new in the world of “home economics”. While doing that, I recently came across an article talking about how to convert a bread recipe to Tangzhong. I was unfamiliar with that word so had to look into it more fully.

Tangzhong is an Asian technique that makes your yeast bread and rolls soft, fluffy, moist, airy and tender. In addition to affecting the texture of the yeast products you are making, this technique also helps extend the shelf life.

To accomplish this technique you start by pre-cooking a portion of the flour and liquid (water or milk) very briefly and letting it cool to room temperature before adding to the rest of the ingredients in your recipe. This slurry/pudding/roux type mixture helps the starches in the flour absorb more water. Flour can absorb twice as much hot liquid as cold so pre-cooking makes a big difference here. The flour/liquid mixture also creates structure which helps the bread be able to hold on to the extra liquid.

In order to use Tangzhong, you want the hydration in your yeast bread/roll recipe to be 75%. That means the liquid should equal 75% of the weight of the flour. Before I started doing the math on my favorite recipes, I decided to find a recipe that was already based on the Tangzhong method. If you are looking for a softer yeast roll, I hope you will give it a try.

 

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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College Bound

The end of July always signals a new beginning for another school year to me. It is an exciting time for students, teachers, and parents.

Many families are preparing to send a student off to college for the first time. That whole experience can be an emotional roller coaster for both the students and parents. With a plan in place it is easier to ease college-bound students, and their parents, into the next phase of their lives.

An important part of that plan is keeping the lines of communication open between parent and student about the realities of college life as a college freshmen. There may be more or different pressures as new social situations are encountered. Many college freshmen feel pressured into deciding what they want to do, picking a career path and planning for their futures. Students and parents both feel pulled between the past, present and future. It is important for parents to remember the foundation they have worked to build and provided their child with for the last 18 years will stay with their child. Provide wings they need to develop but also trust they have strong roots.

As students head off to college, parenting styles will change. Teenagers still need love and support but both sides are working on building an adult relationship with each other. Parents especially, but students too, need to accept there will be a void. The joy everyone is feeling may also be mixed with longing. Parents and college students may both feel left out at times. Parents will be less privy to all aspects of their child’s life but again it is vital to keep the lines of communication open. It is a good idea to make a plan about how and how often you are going to stay in touch. It is a time in your student’s life when they are wanting to assert their independence but also feel connected to family. As parents make changes at home after the student moves out, it is helpful to keep the student informed. This gives them a sense of security and belonging.

College life for both students and parents is not harder or easier than high school – it is just different.

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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Prebiotics and Probiotics

It seems some topics circulate around periodically. I recently heard a dietician talking about prebiotics and probitoics on TV. They rise to the forefront in nutrition news every few years it seems. I decided to jump on the bandwagon and do a little research into prebiotics and probiotics and their relationship to one another.

They are both considered nutrition boosters and are both found naturally in food. They are both also found in supplement form. Whenever possible I recommend getting your nutrition from food rather than supplements though as they are more readily digested and absorbed that way.

Probiotics are probably most familiar to us. They are active, living cultures considered “friendly bacteria”. They are found naturally in your gut and they help reintroduce or change bacteria in your intestine. They help maintain healthful bacteria in the intestines and improve immune health. The best known source is probably live-cultured yogurt. Other sources include sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, green pickles and tempeh.

Prebiotics are not living bacteria.  They are nondigestible and are usually fibers found in raw food. They promote the growth of friendly bacteria in probiotics and help protect the intestines from unfriendly bacteria. Prebiotics selectively feed good gut bacteria. Sources of prebiotics include asparagus, garlic, onion, wheat bran, artichokes, bananas, aged cheese and soybeans.

Prebiotics and probiotics are generally recognized as safe and few people experience side effects. If you have a compromised immune system however, it is a good idea to check with your doctor before adding them into your diet. Studies suggest adding these into your diet helps support a strong immune system however there is potential danger in promoting overgrowth of good and bad bacteria in patients with weak immune systems.  If you do decide to add them into your diet, try to include a combination of both prebiotics and probiotics in the same meal. They work together to help improve your gut health. A yogurt parfait with a banana in would be an example of combining probiotics and prebiotics.

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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Poke Bowls

We had friends just return from Hawaii who were raving about the Poke Bowls they enjoyed there. I had never heard of them but they piqued my curiosity enough to do a little research on them.

Poke (pronounced po-kay) is a sushi-like raw seafood salad. Poke is a Hawaiian verb meaning to slice or cut – which is what you do to the fish. Poke bowls were created in the Hawaiian Islands with a Japanese influence. The most popular are made with ahi tuna or octopus but you can use any fresh-caught fish or seafood you enjoy. If you do not care for eating raw fish or don’t enjoy it’s texture, you can certainly grill the fish/seafood you are using. They are a light and healthy meal and can be made low carb, gluten-free, and grain-free. They are also a great source of protein.

Poke bowls have been in Hawaii since the 1970’s and became popular on the mainland six or seven years ago. You can find them many places today including restaurants that only serve poke, poke bars in grocery stores, food trucks and you can buy prepackaged poke bowls  at the grocery store to take home like the one pictured. Poke bowls are easy to make at home as well. Many people start with a base of sushi rice, cauliflower rice, or lettuce. The poke is placed on top of that containing the fish, some onions (Vidalia or green onions work well, soy sauce and sesame oil (or tamari) along with some spice like Sriracha sauce. On top of the poke most add raw vegetables and slices of avocado.

The National Restaurant Association named poke a hot trend last year. It may be a refreshing and healthy choice for lunch or dinner on some of these hot Summer days. Enjoy!

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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Grilling Fruit

Summer and grilling just seem to go together at my house. Typically it is meat we are grilling but I have recently been interested in branching out to grilling fruit to complement the meat or use as a side or dessert.

As I was researching grilling fruit I was amazed at how many fruits lend themselves to be grilled. Peaches, melons, pineapple, pears, avocado, bananas, figs, grapes, watermelon and mango are all recommended. The key is to use fruits that are firm and barely ripe. You will want to grill them right before they are considered ripe enough to eat.

Grilling fruits intensifies their flavor by caramelizing the natural sugars. Juicy fruits will get even juicier and the grill marks make the fruit look very appealing. To maintain structure, cut the fruit into large chunks, slices, or wheels. If you are grilling smaller fruits, put them on a skewer so they don’t fall through the grates.

To prepare the grill for grilling fruit, preheat it to medium high for at least 10 minutes. Scrape and oil the grates to prevent sticking. Using a neutral tasting oil that is suitable for high heat is best so it does not affect the taste of the fruit. You may oil the fruit, if you wish, to also help prevent sticking but most people find they get better grill marks on the fruit without oiling the fruit itself. You can also sprinkle a spice on the cut fruit before you grill it if you want to. Many people recommend sprinkling white or brown sugar on the cut surface to help with the caramelization.

When grilling your fruit it is important to let it sear before trying to turn it to help prevent sticking. A general rule of thumb is to let the fruit sear for three minutes, flip it, then let it cook another one to three minutes more. If the fruit seems to be sticking before you turn it for the first time let it sear for a little bit longer and it should release. Denser fruit takes longer to grill  i.e. pineapple will take longer than peaches. You can put the lid on the grill to help keep the heat in if you wish. Check the fruit every few minutes to prevent overcooking. Your goal is for the fruit to be hot in the middle with beautiful grill marks on it.

Grilled fruit is delicious by itself but pairs nicely with ice cream and/or whipped cream. I’m looking forward to experimenting with grilling some fruits as more and more fruits are coming into their season.

 

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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