Potato Peelings

We recently had friends spend a long weekend with us and they were telling us about a recent mishap at their house. They were entertaining friends for dinner and were preparing a potato dish. They put the potato peelings down the garbage disposer. You may have guessed what happened next – the drain got totally clogged. Typically things like that happen when it is holiday time and we are preparing food for more people than usual. Plumbers are usually not available at a reasonable price at those times as well!

There are foods you should never put down your garbage disposer. Sometimes it happens though that we forget or a helper in the kitchen is not familiar with foods that should not be disposed of in the garbage disposer. Our friends contacted a plumber but decided to try a few things themselves to unclog the drain and they were successful!

Many of us will probably be making potato salad this Summer so I thought it might be a good reminder to all of us to not put potato peelings down the garbage disposer and also to review some ways to try and unclog a drain on your own.

You may want to try the Baking Soda and Vinegar method: Pour 1/2 cup baking soda down the drain. Add 1/2 cup white vinegar and cover the drain if possible. Let set for a few minutes, then pour a kettle of boiling water down the drain to flush it. The combination of baking soda and vinegar can break down a clog and wash it down the drain. DO NOT use this method after any commercial drain opener has been used or is still present in the standing water.

Another method is using Salt and Baking Soda: Pour 1/2 cup salt and 1/2 cup baking soda down the drain. Follow with 6 cups boiling water. Let sit overnight and then flush with water. The hot water should help dissolve the clog and the baking soda and salt serve as an abrasive to break through the clog.

In order to keep your drain running smoothly you may consider pouring a kettle of boiling water down it on a weekly basis to melt fat that may be building up or to put some vinegar and baking soda down the drain to break up fat and keep it smelling fresh.

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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Allergies

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America has deemed May National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month. In addition, the third week in May is designated Food Allergy Awareness Week. Allergies have become really important and can mean life or death to the nearly 15 million people in the US who are affected by food allergies. The Centers for Disease Control estimate four to six percent of children and four percent of adults are affected by food allergies.

A food allergy occurs when the body’s immune system perceives a certain food as dangerous or harmful. The body reacts by causing symptoms. Those symptoms are an allergic reaction and can range from mild to severe. The foods that cause the allergic reactions are called allergens. There are eight major food allergens: Milk, Eggs, Peanuts, Tree Nuts, Wheat, Soy, Fish, and Crustacean Shellfish. There is currently no cure for food allergies so avoiding the food with the allergen is the most effective way to not suffer a reaction. Food allergies are most common in young children but can appear at any age. Some of the allergies are occasionally outgrown but not always. The most common ones that are occasionally outgrown are milk, egg, wheat and soy. Children with food allergies are two to four times more likely to have asthma or other allergic diseases.

Most food related symptoms occur within two hours of ingesting the food. Sometimes the reaction can happen within minutes. An initial reaction may produce mild symptoms but that does not guarantee all reactions will be similar. The most severe allergic reaction is anaphylaxis. It is life-threatening and can effect breathing, blood pressure and heart rate. Because it can be fatal it must be treated promptly with an injection of epinephrine. You may know people who carry an EpiPen with them because their reactions can be so severe.

If you suspect you or someone you know has a food allergy it is important to have testing done by a board-certified allergist.

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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Vinegar to set color???

Over the years you may have purchased clothing that faded from its brilliant color after cleaning or laundering. The same thing has happened to me. You may have also heard about “home remedies” that were suppose to “set” dyes. I know I have had people recommend to me such things as vinegar and water; salt, alum and water; or a combination of vinegar, salt, alum and water to be added to the wash or rinse cycle to help prevent color loss. Unfortunately none of those methods substantially reduce color loss. Those remedies are basically a waste of time, energy and money. So it was interesting to me when I recently purchased a new top that the store included the two care cards you see pictured. When I asked about them the store clerk helping me said it was because the top was black.

Dyes can bleed in dry cleaning solvent or in water and cause the original color to fade or stain other colors. If excess dye remains on the surface of the fabric it can cause dye loss or transfer in water or solvent both by crocking or rubbing. If you have ever worn a new pair of jeans and sat on something light colored or worn a light colored top and seen blue streaks appear on the lighter color it is because the excess dye has rubbed or crocked off.

If excess dye is the main cause of color bleeding, the dye transfer may stop after a number of washings or cleanings but the color will fade as well. There are some things you might want to consider the next time you are contemplating buying a black or brilliant colored piece of clothing. Be a label reader. If the tag says “wash colors separately”, you could expect dye will bleed in washing. Washing your garments inside out in cold water will help some. There are commercial dye fixatives you might want to try. Retayne is a popular one on the market. Retayne is a liquid cationic dye fixing agent used as a pretreatment on commercially dyed cotton fabrics that tend to bleed easily. Retayne does NOT work in energy efficient front laoding washing machines. Those machines do not supply enough water to properly treat the fabric. Use a top loading washing machine or treat the garment in an old enamel canning kettle or plastic bucket that is not used for food. For the machine or the pot, use enough 140 degree water for the fabric to move around freely. If the hot water that enters your washing machine is not 140 degrees you will want to heat water on top of the stove to add to the machine. Leave the garment in the 140 degree water for 20 minutes, launder in cool water and rinse in cold water. This treatment only needs to be done once. After that continue to launder in cool water and rinse in cold water. Do not wash the garment in hot water. Synthrapol is often used in combination with Retayne. Synthrapol can be used as a pre-wash or an after-wash. As a pre-wash it works best in hot water to wash out excess loose dye molecules that have not been chemically bonded to the fabric. Used as an after-wash it keeps loose particles of dye in suspension so they don’t stain other areas of the fabric.

Rit ColorStay Dye Fixative is another popular product on the market. It is designed to also lock in color and reduce bleeding and fading. The procedure is much the same as with Retayne. Hot water is used again and you treat the garment before the first laundering.

Shout makes a product called Color Catcher Dye-Trapping Sheets. They are used in the wash water and the sheets are designed to lock up loose dyes found in the wash water to help prevent dyes from bleeding onto other clothes and helping preserve the bright vibrant original colors of your garment. If you are using a front loading machine it is recommend you put the Color Catcher in a mesh bag and place it at the back of the washer drum before adding the load of clothes to wash.

If you look at the reviews online or talk to people who have used any of these products you will find that none of them are 100 percent reliable. There are a lot of variables involved. If you decide to use one of the commercial products it is important to follow the directions as stated on the package. The use of vinegar to “set” color is not recommended however.

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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Weighted Blankets

I have been intrigued with weighted blankets for quite a while. I am certainly  interested in anything that would help me get a better night’s sleep without using medication in any form, over-the-counter or prescription. As I began to research weighted blankets I found scientific research was very limited. I did find one study done in 2015 in the Journal of Sleep Medicine and Disorders that concluded the participants had a calmer night’s sleep with a decrease in movements. The participants also believed the weighted blanket used in the study provided them with a more comfortable, better quality, and more secure sleep. That was enough positive feedback for me to delve into it a little more!

So what are weighted blankets? They are heavy blankets, 15 plus pounds (although some weigh less), filled with poly-pellets that have the texture of plastic pebbles, glass beads that have the texture of sand, or chains. The theory behind them is they provide deep pressure that gives you a feeling of calm or that you are being hugged or swaddled. The weight in the blanket makes it harder for you to move which in turn makes it harder to disturb yourself while sleeping.

Weighted blankets have been popular to treat children with disorders like autism or ADHD and have now become popular to help with sleep issues for many ages. They are not recommended for the very young or the elderly however. They are also not recommended for people who snore or have sleep apnea, fragile skin, circulatory problems, or temperature regulation issues.

If you do decide to invest in a weighted blanket, what weight should you purchase? Most recommendations are to choose one that is 10% of your body weight or 10% of your body weight plus 1 to 3 pounds depending on your age. For young children, 1 pound, for older children and teens, 2 pounds, and for adults up to the 3 pounds above your body weight.

Many weighted blankets come with an outer cover that is machine washable. Those fabrics can range from extra warm to extra soft to cool to the touch. Most weighted blankets themselves are not machine washable so choosing one with a washable cover is an important consideration. Weighted blankets can be pricey so it pays to do your homework and compare those that come with an outer cover included and those that charge an additional fee for the cover.

There are non-profit groups that not only make weighted blankets to give to children with special needs they also include directions to make your own. Two I am familiar with are Sharing the Weight, which one of my co-workers is a part of, and Weighted Comfort for Kids. If you are interested in making a weighted blanket for yourself or a friend, the directions on these sites are easy to follow.

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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Ham tips

This time of year AnswerLine gets a lot of calls about ham. Ham is meat from the hind leg of pork. It can be fresh, cured, or cured-and-smoked. Hams are either ready to eat or not. Ready to eat hams include cooked hams and prosciutto. Hams that must be cooked will have cooking instructions and safe handling instructions right on the label and you MUST cook them. Typically you cook ham at 325 degrees for 10 minutes per pound or to an internal temperature of 145 degrees followed by a 3 minute rest time. To help keep ham moist and juicy during cooking, place cut side down and tent with foil.

Fresh refers to uncured leg of pork. It will have the flavor of a fresh pork loin roast or pork chops. “Fresh” will be part of the product name on the label. The color will be pale pink or beige as opposed to cured ham being a deep rose or pink color and country or dry cured ham being pink to mahogany in color.

Hams can be wet-cured, which is very common, in a brine solution containing water, salt, sugar and spices. During this process the solution is injected into the meat before cooking. There are three varieties of wet-brined ham. “Ham with natural juices” has little water added during the curing process and results in an attractive appearance with a velvety type texture. “Ham with water added” retains more water during the process and is good for steaks, thin slicing and shaving. A “Ham and water product” has the most water added to it and is most often found at the deli counter. It is a good choice if the ham is going to be served cold.

Hams can be dry-cured by rubbing salt and spices into the meat’s surface. They are known as “country-style” hams. Prosciutto is also made using a dry cure.

After curing some hams are smoked. This is a process involving hanging or heating the ham in a smokehouse to allow it to absorb smoke from either smoldering fires or generated smoke which gives added flavor and color.

When purchasing ham allow 1/4 -1/3 pound per serving if it is boneless and 1/3 -1/2 pound per serving if it is bone-in. If you end up with enough leftover ham you won’t be able to consume it within 3 or 4 days consider freezing the leftovers.

FoodSafety.gov has excellent information on ham storage and ham cooking.

 

 

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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Decorating Eggs

There are many commercial products available for decorating eggs but if you haven’t ever considered naturally coloring eggs for Easter you might want to! The American Egg Board has many suggestions for decorating eggs including using natural foods to color your eggs.

For pinkish red eggs consider fresh beets or cranberries or frozen raspberries. Orange or yellow colored eggs can be successfully dyed using yellow onion skins, ground turmeric, orange or lemon peels, carrot tops, celery seed, or ground cumin. Spinach leaves will produce pale green colored eggs. For blue eggs try canned blueberries or red cabbage leaves.

After you have determined which color you want to dye your eggs, place 1, 2, or 3 handfuls of your dye base in a saucepan and add 1 cup of water for each handful of color base. The water level should be at least an inch above the dye materials. Bring to boiling then reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes to an hour until you have attained the color you want. Remember, eggs will dye a lighter shade than the color you see in the saucepan.

Strain the dye mixture into a small bowl deep enough to completely cover the eggs and add 2-3 teaspoons of white vinegar for each cup of dye liquid. You are then ready to start dyeing your eggs in the warm liquid. Natural dyes require a longer soak time for the color to take hold. If you want a vibrant color and to be able to eat your decorated eggs you will want to leave the eggs in the dye solution overnight in the refrigerator. Hard cooked eggs are safe to consume for up to 7 days provided they have not been out at room temperature for more than 2 hours.

 

 

 

 

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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Knives

My son just purchased some new bread knives. It caused me to re-evaluate the knives I have in my own kitchen. Knives can seem like an expensive investment but having the right knife for the job can make your time in the kitchen so much more productive and efficient. Some people purchase knife sets. If you are going to use all the knives in the set, that is a good investment. For me there are three knives I find myself reaching for over and over. One is the Chef’s knife. It is very versatile being used for chopping vegetables, slicing meat, and mincing garlic and herbs. It can be from 5-8 inches long, typically 8 inches, and is considered the workhorse of the kitchen.

A paring knife is another knife I find I am constantly reaching for. It is usually 3-4 inches long and is perfect for peeling and coring as well as cutting small fruits and vegetables.

The third knife I use frequently is the serrated knife, or bread knife. It can be used for slicing crusty bread, of course, and also for cutting very soft fruits and vegetables, like tomatoes. They are usually 9-10 inches long and don’t sharpen very well so need to be replaced every now and then depending on how often you use them.

When you get ready to purchase knives, there are a few things to consider. Most importantly is your budget. Buy the best-quality knives you can afford and keep them sharp. A good knife, if cared for properly, can last a lifetime.

You will also want to hold the knife in your hand before you purchase. How it feels is basically personal preference. Look for a knife that feels like an extension of your hand. It should feel perfectly balanced, sturdy and comfortable in your hand with an ergonomic grip.

You may want to consider if the knife you are looking at is forged or stamped. Forged knives are created when a single piece of molten steel is cut and beaten into the desired shape. Forged knives have a sturdy blade with a heavy bolster (junction between blade and handle) and heel to protect the hand when cutting. They typically hold a sharp edge well. They are less flexible than their counterpart, stamped knives, and generally are more expensive than stamped knives. Stamped knives are created using a cookie-cutter type machine. They are usually the same thickness throughout, except at the cutting edge, and lack a bolster and heel. Their blades are generally lighter and more flexible and they do not hold their edge as well.

After you have purchased the knives that are right for your uses, remember to use them on the right cutting surfaces such as a plastic or wood cutting board. Using your knives on a plate, tile, countertop, etc will dull the blades. And using a sharp knife is much safer than using a dull one. Dull knives require more pressure to cut, increasing the chance the knife will slip with the force behind it.

You will also want to care for your knives correctly once you have invested in them. Leaving unwashed knives in the sink or putting them in the dishwasher are no-nos. Besides keeping your knives sharp, hand washing and drying them and storing them in protective sleeves will help your knives work their best and last as long as possible.

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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Crafty Cruising

I enjoy traveling every chance I get. While waiting at the airline gate for my last trip I struck up conversation with two women who were working on craft projects. As you can see one was knitting and one was quilting. As we visited about their projects they told me they had their sewing machines in their carry-ons and were going on a sewing cruise! What fun! I am aware of several different themes for cruises – musical groups, weight loss, bird watching, etc. – but I had not looked into sewing or craft cruises. They were going on a 10-day cruise that had several ports of call but also incorporated four days and most evenings at sea for passengers to focus on the sewing projects they brought. This particular cruise was sponsored by Singer Featherweight so there was a Maintenance Workshop for their machine included for every cruiser signed up with Singer as well as a tune-up kit for their machine.

It has been very interesting for me to research some of the cruise possibilities for crafters. You can pretty much find a cruise to match whatever craft you enjoy doing: sewing, quilting (including long arm classes), needlepoint, embroidery, knitting, crocheting. Always check to see what is included with the cruise before signing up. Some provide the machines, others allow you to bring your own machine and offer perks to go along with that. Some have you bring your own projects to work on while others have pre-assembled kits available for purchase. Some give you 24 hour access to the sewing and crafting room while others offer set hours. Most often there are instructors available and if a specific company is offering the cruise a company representative would be available.

If you enjoy cruising and crafting this might be right down your alley!

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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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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