Baked Alaska

I recently wrote about cream puffs and how relatively easy they are to make yet look very fancy. Another dessert I think falls into the same category is Baked Alaska. It is really just a dressed-up ice cream cake. It is cake topped with ice cream, covered with meringue, then baked in a hot oven for a few minutes to brown the meringue while leaving the ice cream frozen and firm.

President Thomas Jefferson is reported to have served ice cream wrapped in hot pastry at a White House dinner during his presidency. The early versions are recorded as using a piping hot pastry shell to encase the ice cream while later versions used meringue and browned the dish in the oven or with a chef’s blowtorch.

In 1867, Charles Ranhofer, a French chef at the time at Delmonico’s restaurant in New York, created a cake to celebrate the United States purchase of Alaska from the Russians. He called it an Alaska, Florida to show the contrast between the cold and hot – ice cream and toasted meringue. The original dessert used walnut cake, banana ice cream and meringue. Baked Alaska is still on the menu today at Delmonico’s in New York but has been updated to using walnut cake, apricot jam, banana gelato, and meringue. It still says right on their dessert menu that it was created by Charles Ranhofer in 1867.

You can use basically any cake as a base for Baked Alaska: boxed or homemade, chiffon, pound or even a brownie. Although the traditional shape is a bombe, Betty Crocker has a recipe done in a 9×13 pan that seems like an easy place to start.

If you are making the traditional bombe shape, bake a cake of your choice then top it with softened ice cream you have shaped in a plastic wrap-lined container to match the shape of your cake (typically round). Press the cake and ice cream together and freeze. You can freeze the dessert at this point for a couple days. When you remove this from the freezer, cover the cake and ice cream with a thick layer of meringue making sure it is totally sealed. It is important there are no holes allowing exposure to the cake or ice cream or you will have a melted mess when you get it out of the oven. The meringue is the insulation that protects the ice cream from melting in the oven. Once you have the meringue on, freeze the Baked Alaska for a few hours or overnight before baking. Right before you are ready to serve put the Baked Alaska in a 500 degree oven for 4 or 5 minutes to brown the meringue or use your kitchen blowtorch.

A Baked Alaska is impressive when whole. Very often once you cut the slices to serve, the ice cream and meringue will separate from each other but that does not affect the taste of course.

I am looking forward to making some “fancy” desserts in the near future!

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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Cream Puffs

I recently was enjoying a cream puff dessert with my sister and we were talking about how we never make them yet they are so easy and “fancy” and look like you spent a lot more time on them than you actually did.

Puff shells are made from dough called pate a choux. The French “choux” means cabbage. A patissier perfected the pastry dough in the middle of the eighteenth century and created choux buns. Because the buns were the same shape as little cabbages the name stuck.

The dough is easy to make and it’s a great recipe to make ahead, freeze, and bake as needed. You can make the dough, spoon dollops of it onto a baking sheet and freeze unbaked. Once the dollops have frozen individually, wrap them in a plastic bag and put them back in the freezer. You can bake them from the frozen state for about five minutes longer than your recipe calls for. You can also freeze them after baking and cooling then crisp them up in a 300 degree oven for five to eight minutes.

If you are working just a couple days ahead you can store the prepared dough in a pastry bag or zip-lock bag in the refrigerator.

The pate a choux can be used to make several desserts. You can fill the cabbage shaped puffs with whipped cream, pastry cream, or custard. Profiteroles are made from the same dough but are usually frozen and filled with ice cream then drizzled with chocolate sauce. Eclairs are the same dough but stretched out into an elongated shape.

The puffs do not need to be used only as a dessert. They can be used with savory fillings such as chicken salad, hummus, cheese spread, pate, roast beef with sauce, etc. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination.

Cream puff dough requires only four ingredients – water, butter, flour and eggs. The only tips to remember are not to overmix when stirring in the flour and to add the eggs one at a time after you have removed the mixture from the heat, beating after each addition.

Cream puffs are leavened by eggs and steam. If you find your cream puffs have collapsed the most common reason is too little water in the recipe so there was not enough steam created to help the puffs inflate. Opening the oven door during baking and having your oven temperature too low are other causes of cream puffs collapsing.

Once you have removed your cream puffs from the oven, use a serrated knife to carefully split them open and remove any “eggy” filament that is inside using a fork. The puffs should be crisp and hollow.

Unfilled, baked cream puffs can be stored in an airtight container for two days or frozen as I mentioned earlier for longer storage. Filled puffs can be kept in the refrigerator for 3-4 days or frozen for 2-3 months for best quality.

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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Stolen Packages

My husband and I recently were in Chicago for several days at our daughter’s house while she was away on a business trip. Sadly, on our watch a thief stole 3 packages that had been delivered to her front porch while we were out to lunch. Luckily she has a security camera so the whole thing was caught on tape which made it easier to submit a police report but the whole experience was very frustrating, maddening and unnerving.

According to an article in Consumer Reports there are some things you can do to lower your risk of being a target. Even though my daughter has a working internet-enabled security camera installed and has a security system to protect the house, it still happened and it can happen to anyone anywhere. The holidays are over for 2018 but you may want to consider being proactive in 2019 to help prevent a theft happening to you or someone you know.

If it is possible, avoid home delivery altogether. If you shop on Amazon they have lockers available in some locations (often a Whole Foods store) where you can have your packages delivered to and you retrieve using a security code for the locker. Amazon also offers a Key Kit that can be used for the delivery person to unlock your home and put your packages inside the door. An Amazon Key app is another alternative that is available for your packages to be put in the trunk of your car. There is a cost for some of those services but if you shop on Amazon a lot and buy a lot of things online it may be worth researching.

UPS recommends sending packages to where you are – not where you are not. Check with the company you work for to see if it is an option to have your packages delivered to you at work. Send to a relative or neighbor who is home during the day. Send to a walk in store and pick it up there if possible. UPS offers               “access points” in some locations which are delis, grocery stores, dry cleaners, florists, etc that allow packages to be dropped off by UPS and picked up by you later. Some UPS stores have mailbox service. UPS also has a service called My Choice that is free and lets you know when your package will be arriving so you can be there to accept it, reroute or reschedule the delivery, or authorize a shipment release.

USPS offers Informed Delivery Manager. It is also free and allows you to track your packages and leave delivery instructions if you are not going to be home.

Some shippers allow a required signature at delivery so if no one is home the delivery service will take it back to it’s facility and try again later or let you come pick it up and sign for it.

Door bell cameras, motion sensors and internet-enabled security cameras have their benefits but the benefit is usually realized after the theft has been committed, which was true in our case.

I sincerely hope you never have any packages stolen but if you do, notify the police immediately and file a report. You can also contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. They are the law enforcement arm of the postal service. You should contact the shipper and delivery service as well as your credit card company and the company you bought the packages from to see if you can get reimbursed or have a new package sent. We were, thankfully, able to get all three packages we had stolen replaced at no charge.

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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Hand Dryers vs Paper Towels

We recently had someone reach out to us asking about the sanitation of hand dryers vs paper towels for drying  hands. I noticed as I recently did some traveling that many airports, restaurants and rest areas are going to air hand dryers rather than paper towels. I’m sure it is beneficial to them as a means to keep their restrooms more tidy.  According to the CDC, drying your hands is very beneficial as germs can be transferred more easily to and from wet hands. But is it more beneficial to us to use a hand dryer or paper towels?

According to an article in the Harvard Health blog from Harvard Medical School, bacteria in a bathroom can form a fecal cloud due to lidless toilets being flushed. That fecal cloud contains many microbes. Fortunately the majority of those microbes do not cause disease in healthy people. For those people in a hospital or with a weakened immune system though this could be a big problem.

As I was beginning to look for pictures to go along with this article the first place I decided to check was our local clinic. I found only paper towel dispensers there. As I did more research I found that is because paper towels are already routine in health care settings.

As was stated in the CDC article, the best way to dry hands remains unclear because few studies about hand drying exist and the results are unclear. There are many factors involved and of course it depends on who is paying for the study. Many are sponsored by either the paper towel industry or the air blower industry with results of course favoring their products. Some studies focused on the effectiveness of the hand drying, some on the cost, some on the carbon footprint, and some on the degree of which bacteria and viruses are deposited on the hands during the drying process.

The Harvard Health study recommended using paper towels as they found them to be the most hygienic way to dry your hands. Another study agreed suggesting paper towels can dry hands efficiently, remove bacteria effectively and cause less contamination of the restroom environment. That same study found that with air dryers people were more likely to incompletely dry their hands or not dry them at all.

The bottom line is to wash your hands effectively and dry them completely with whatever method is available. Don’t let your hands drip dry and don’t dry them on your clothes.

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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Vanilla

If you have done a lot of Holiday baking you probably noticed the price of vanilla has risen substantially in recent months. Vanilla is the world’s most popular flavoring. You can purchase it in two forms – pure and imitation. Pure is derived from seed pods of vanilla orchid vines and imitation is made in a lab. One percent of the world’s vanilla flavor is real and the rest is imitation. There is definitely a big price difference between the two.

Part of the reason the price of vanilla has gone up goes back to 2017 when a cyclone wiped out 30% of the vanilla orchid crop on Madagascar. Madagascar is an island that produces about 80% of the world’s vanilla beans so that made a big difference for production.

By FDA definition, pure extract means the vanilla flavor must come only from vanilla beans. For pure vanilla, the vanilla orchids are hand-picked. After harvesting they are cured, sweated, dried, and conditioned to fully mature their flavor. The beans are then soaked in an alcohol and water mixture and the flavor is extracted from the pod. FDA regulations require pure vanilla extract contain at least 35% alcohol. Additional alcohol content is also allowed. Imitation vanilla contains less alcohol or none at all.

Synthetic or imitation vanilla is flavored primarily with synthesized vanillin. Vanillin is the main flavor component of cured vanilla beans. Vanillin that is synthesized in a lab is identical at the molecular level to vanillin derived from an orchid so the taste is the same. Caramel coloring is also usually added to imitation vanilla. As I mentioned earlier, the FDA requires pure vanilla extract to get its flavoring from vanilla beans only. That FDA requirement relates to flavor only however. Some may contain a little sugar or corn syrup. Pure vanilla extract that has been stored properly in a cool, dark area will remain safe indefinitely. If it has been exposed to high levels of moisture and light it may lose some of its potent aroma and flavor over time or develop a hazy appearance but it will still be safe to use. Imitation vanilla will remain safe for 3 to 4 years if stored properly.

It is interesting that a couple sites I referenced, Cooks Illustrated and Epicurious, did taste testing of products that were made identically except for using pure vanilla in one and imitation in the other. In many instances the people doing the taste testing preferred the imitation vanilla over the pure. I think that definitely relates back to the molecular level of the vanillin being identical whether it was made in a lab or came from the bean.

It is also interesting to note that the compounds that make up pure vanilla flavor can’t survive high-heat cooking. So pure vanilla in cookies adds little because they are baked @350 degrees. Using pure vanilla in icings/frostings, puddings, custards, milkshakes and frozen desserts makes more sense as they are not heated at all or not heated to a high temperature.

Vanilla is one of my favorite flavorings so I have definitely noticed the price increase. After doing this research though I will try and use the pure for things I am not cooking to a high temperature and use imitation for the rest.

Happy Holidays!

 

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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Rice Krispie Treats

I recently wrote about the inventor of the Green Bean Casserole. It piqued my interest in finding out more about other inventors of some of my families favorite foods. One of those foods is the Rice Krispie Treat. I love that it’s invention is credited to an Iowa State University graduate!

Kelloggs Rice Krispie Treats is a trademarked name. The recipe (cereal, marshmallows, butter and vanilla) has never changed. Many of us put our own twist on the treat by adding extra ingredients or toppings however.

Mildred Ghrist Day is the woman credited with developing the original recipe. She was born in 1903 in Marion County Iowa. She went to Iowa State University and majored in Home Economics. Even before she received her diploma she had a job secured at the Kelloggs cereal company in Battle Creek, MI. She tested recipes in the company’s large kitchen and conducted cooking schools for Kelloggs across the country.

Kelloggs Rice Krispies cereal was developed in 1927 and came on the market in 1928. By 1939, Mildred and a co-worker had created the Rice Krispies Treat. History has it that the recipe was possibly inspired by an earlier recipe that had puffed wheat and molasses in. Mildred felt marshmallows would be less messy than molasses and began experimenting. Mildred’s daughter, Sandra, remembers that about six months after the invention, Kelloggs received a call from a Camp Fire girls organization looking for ideas for a fundraising project. The Rice Krispie treat was originally known as marshmallow squares and Kelloggs decided to test-try the product for the Camp Fire girls request. They sent Mildred, with a giant mixer and huge baking trays, to the Camp Fire girls in the Kansas City area. Mildred made many batches of the then known as marshmallow squares. The mothers of the Camp Fire girls would wrap the treats then send the girls out to sell them door to door.

Although the recipe had been published in newspapers earlier, in 1941 Kelloggs put the recipe on the side of its cereal box for the first time. They remain popular to this day.

In honor and memory of Mildred, Iowa State University students created a gigantic Rice Krispies Treat as part of the VEISHEA celebration in 2001. It weighed 2,480 pounds and was made from 818 pounds of Rice Krispies cereal, 1,466 pounds of marshmallows and 217 pounds of butter. What an accomplishment!

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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FOG (Fats, Oils and Grease)

As we continue to enjoy the Holidays with family and friends, I want to remind everyone about something we may not think about often but that could certainly impact a gathering in our homes. If not disposed of properly, fats, oils and grease can build up in the pipes of your home and cause a sewer backup. Those backups are always unpleasant and expensive to repair and there are things we can do to help prevent the backups in the first place. Many food products can lead to a buildup in your homes pipes if not disposed of properly: grease from cooking a turkey in the oven or a deep fat fryer, salad dressing, leftover gravy, cooking oil, butter/margarine, etc.

Here are some tips to help us all avoid having a sewer backup event:

Use a paper towel to remove as much leftover fat, oil and grease as you can on dishes and pans before you wash them.

If you cooked with the fat, oil or grease, let it cool completely then either throw away the fat that has hardened or pour the leftover fat in a sealable container and throw it away in your garbage.

If you have deep fried your turkey, dispose of that oil after each use. If you leave the oil in the fryer to reuse at another time it may attract pests and may not be safe. Many resource recovery plants will accept used cooking oil at no or minimal cost.

By following a few tips in removing fats, oils and grease from our dishes and pans we can save ourselves a lot of stress over clogged pipes in our homes.

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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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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