Cast Iron Skillet

Cast iron has made a resurgence recently. As a friend and I were discussing it she mentioned she did not have a cast iron skillet but was interested in purchasing one. We were especially interested because King Arthur Flour’s  Recipe of the Year is a pizza made in a cast iron skillet! 

Cast iron provides a nonstick surface that’s free of synthetic chemicals and requires less oil. It has great heat retention and provides superior browning. It is the only cookware you can buy that can actually improve with age! 

As we headed out in search of a new cast iron skillet we found several options on the market. Neither enameled nor traditional is “best”. A lot depends on personal preference. Some people prefer to go to garage sales or auctions to find one that has been well used. The new high-quality cast iron you find on the market however still provides excellent nonstick surfaces that also only get better with use.

Cast iron skillets work well on either gas or electric stove tops and of course in the oven. If you have an electric stove, it may take a little longer to achieve the same results since the cast iron is slightly slower to heat on an electric heating element. My friend has an electric glass top stove. Cast iron will still work successfully on that but she is going to need to take extra care when moving it so it doesn’t scratch the glass top.

One drawback of cast iron can be it’s weight. We found skillets weighing anywhere from 6 and 1/2 pounds to 9 pounds. The really thick pans take longer to heat and could potentially get too hot making it difficult to brown food evenly. Cast iron skillets also do not cook as evenly until the cooking temperature is reached. Some people work around this by preheating the pan in the oven or on top of the stove.

Once you have purchased your cast iron skillet remember it needs to be seasoned to make cleaning easier and prevent sticking. Enjoy cooking with cast iron!

Reference to any commercial product, process, or service, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporate name is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement, recommendation, or certification of any kind. Persons using such products assume responsibility for their use and should make their own assessment of the information and whether it is suitable for their intended use in accordance with current directions of the manufacturer.

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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Buttercream Frosting

For some reason there has been a lot of discussion surrounding different types of frostings in the office recently. I have been recommending Buttercream frosting recipes to both family members and callers.

There are seven different types of Buttercream Frosting. The ingredients used are similar, but the way each is prepared is different.

Traditional Buttercream is fluffy and creamy, easy to make, and requires no cooking. It is a great base for adding flavoring and it holds color very well if you want to tint your frosting. This frosting is safe to be out at room temperature but it does not hold up as well in very warm temperatures. Once the butter starts to melt, the structure collapses.

Flour Buttercream, also known as Ermine Buttercream is not as sweet as Traditional Buttercream and it holds up a lot better in warm temperatures because of it’s pudding type cooked base. It is made by cooking together flour, sugar and milk then letting it cool completely before mixing it together with beaten butter.

German Buttercream is similar to Ermine Buttercream but it uses a custard type base instead of a pudding type. It turns out to be more like a whipped cream icing. This type of buttercream has eggs in it so it must be kept cool.

French Buttercream is rich and creamy. It is made by heating a sugar syrup until it reaches soft ball stage then whipping it into beaten pasteurized egg yolks and soft  butter. It will have a yellow tint to it due to the egg yolks but is easy to spread and makes a great filling between layers.

Italian Buttercream is similar to French Buttercream but you pour boiling syrup of sugar and water over pasteurized egg whites instead of just the yolks. This buttercream is best the day it is made.

Swiss Buttercream uses egg whites and sugar to create a warm mixture that is then whipped into frosting. You will want to make sure your sugar/egg white mixture is cool before adding your butter or the butter will melt. This buttercream is soft and fluffy and spreads nicely for filling layers and icing.

The seventh type of buttercream is Vegan Buttercream. You can substitute a vegan butter spread for the shortening but some spreads will produce a softer frosting so you may need to experiment with how much liquid to add if you are using a vegan spread.

I enjoy the ease and safety of the Traditional Buttercream but occasionally it is fun to experiment with some of the other styles.

Reference to any commercial product, process, or service, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporate name is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement, recommendation, or certification of any kind. Persons using such products assume responsibility for their use and should make their own assessment of the information and whether it is suitable for their intended use in accordance with current directions of the manufacturer.

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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Pears

December is National Pear Month with December 8th designated World Pear Day. Pears are one of my favorite fruits. Because of overlapping seasons of availability pears are in season nearly year round but I find are especially good this time of year.

Pears are a good source of fiber especially if you eat them with the skin on. One medium pear supplies around 100 calories and 24% of your RDA. Pears are also a good source of potassium and vitamin C. They contain no saturated fat, sodium or cholesterol.

There are 10 major varieties of pears:

Green Anjou: sweet and juicy with a hint of citrus flavor

Red Anjou: juicy and slightly tangy

Bartlett: probably the best known; sweet flavor

Red Bartlett: super juicy and sweet

Bosc:crisp, sweet, brown skinned

Comice: sometimes known as the Christmas pear; succulent and creamy

Concorde: crunchy and sweet

Forelle: tangy and crisp

Seckel: bite size; kids usually enjoy eating these

Starkrimson: bright red with a floral essence

When choosing pears, look for those that are firm to the touch and free from bruises and blemishes. Pears ripen from the inside out. Allow them to ripen at room temperature. Most pears will show little change in color when ripe. To test for ripeness, gently press on the neck of the pear. It should give a little to the pressure if it is ripe. If your pears are already ripe and you want to slow the process down a little bit you may put them in the refrigerator.

Pears may be eaten raw or cooked. The best varieties for poaching, baking or grilling are Bosc, Anjou, or Concorde. They have a denser flesh, hold their shape better, and keep their flavor. Pears will turn brown once they have been cut. To help alleviate the problem brush the cut surfaces with a solution of half water and half lemon juice.

If you find your pears have gotten overripe they can still be used in smoothies, sauces, soups and stews.

Spend Smart Eat Smart has a delicious recipe for a Crisp Fruit Salad using pears, apples and raisins.

I hope you will enjoy eating some pears during National Pear Month!

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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Pumpkin Pie

Many of us will be making pumpkin pie during this Fall season. And many of us have favorite pumpkin pie recipes that have been in our families cookbook for many generations. Whether your recipe uses evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, a milk alternative,  is a “lighter” version or gluten free there are some tips for helping make a pie with better results and keeping the pie safe.

Pumpkin pie is considered a custard-based pie so it must be refrigerated to keep it safe to eat. Do not leave the pumpkin pie at room temperature for more than two hours. Custard-based pies do not freeze very successfully. If you want to make the pie ahead of time you  might want to consider freezing the crust and filling separately then after thawing in the refrigerator putting the pie together and baking it. When you are baking the pie be careful not to overbake it as that will cause the pie to crack. Remove the pie from the oven before the center is completely set. The internal temperature of the pie will help it finish baking.

You may want to mix your filling ingredients together the day before you are planning to make the pie to give the spices a chance to blend. For a twist on the crust, one site I looked at suggested replacing 1/4 cup of the flour with 1/4 cup cornmeal to add an interesting texture to the crust since the filling is so smooth. To make your own pumpkin pie spice at home combine 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg and 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves. This will substitute for 1 teaspoon of commercial pumpkin pie spice.

Pumpkin pie is a delicious dessert addition to a special Fall meal. 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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Pumpkin Season!

Pumpkin Season is upon us! Pumpkins are a Fall favorite for our family. They have both culinary and ornamental uses for us. They are delicious in pies and other desserts, fun to paint and display indoors or out, fun to carve into jack-o’-lanterns as a family activity and of course used in Fall decorations.

Pumpkins are a member of the Cucurbitaceae family along with squash, cantaloupe, cucumber, watermelon and gourds. Pumpkins are considered a type of squash. They are typically round with slightly ribbed deep yellow to orange skin.

If you want to store your pumpkins for use at Thanksgiving or later, place them in a single layer where they don’t touch each other in a cool, dry place (ideally 50-55 degrees F). The room should have good circulation to prevent moisture from forming on the surface of the pumpkins which causes decay. Do not store the pumpkins near apples, pears or other ripening fruit as the ripening fruit releases ethylene gas which shortens the storage life of pumpkins. If you store pumpkins correctly you can expect them to last 2-3 months.

Spend Smart Eat Smart has a great recipe for pumpkin pudding that is low calorie and can be used as a snack or dessert. If you prefer to use fresh pumpkin you can substitute 1 and 3/4 cups mashed fresh pumpkin for the 15 ounce can called for in the recipe.

The USDA SNAP-Ed Connection has more recipes, information about pumpkin nutrition, and how to preserve pumpkin.

If you want to preserve your uncarved pumpkins, start with soaking the pumpkins in a solution of 1 gallon water, 2 T. bleach, and a squirt of dish soap for 15-30 minutes. Rinse and dry well. You can then coat the pumpkins with a spray matte sealer.

Enjoy the abundance of pumpkins this Fall!

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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Pumpkin Puree Leftovers

I was recently doing some baking with pumpkin. My recipe called for only 1 cup of pumpkin rather than the whole can which left me with about half a can of pumpkin puree leftover. Some of you may have experienced the same thing. If you have, there are some options for you to consider. First of all you might want to double the recipe you are making and share the additional baked product with a friend:) One 15 ounce can of pumpkin is just shy of 2 cups. If you definitely want the full cup for the second batch you are making just add 1 tablespoon of applesauce to the leftover pumpkin puree. I think you will also find being a tablespoon shy of a full cup of pumpkin will not affect the outcome of your recipe.

If you are using commercially canned pumpkin puree you can refrigerate and use any leftovers within 5-7 days. If you have made your own pumpkin puree you will want to refrigerate and use it within 3-5 days. The leftover pumpkin is wonderful stirred into oatmeal or yogurt or added to a smoothie. Libby’s has posted on their site recommendations for substituting pumpkin puree for eggs, oil or butter in your baking.

 

You may also freeze any leftover pumpkin puree. An easy way to do that is to lightly spray a muffin cup and spoon 1/4 cup or 1/2 cup measurements of pumpkin into each cup. Freeze in the muffin pan until solid then remove the pumpkin mounds/scoops from the pan and transfer to freezer bags. Make sure to label your bags with what it is, the amount in each mound and the date. It is easy to remove the amount you need for a recipe later on. If you thaw the pumpkin puree in the refrigerator, which is the recommended way, you have an additional 3-4 days to store it in the refrigerator and use it. If you thaw the pumpkin in the microwave or with the cold water method you need to use it immediately. Once the pumpkin has thawed if there is any liquid pooling just drain it off before using. For best quality, use frozen pumpkin puree within 3 months. It will be safe indefinitely however if continuously frozen but will lose some quality over time.

There are so many delicious pumpkin recipes out there. I hope you will enjoy baking with pumpkin puree this 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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Induction Burners

My son recently purchased a portable induction burner. I have friends who have them and love them but I do not have one so decided to do a little more research on them. Maybe I need one!

The units plug into a standard outlet so it is easy to use on your countertop or even outdoors if you have a deck or gazebo with outlets or an outdoor kitchen. An electromagnetic field below the glass surface provides heat that heats up the pan you are using. The cookware is considered the transformer so the surface of the burner cools down immediately after a pot is removed.

Because the cookware is the transformer not all cookware can be used on the induction cooktop. Aluminum, glass and ceramic will not work. You don’t necessarily need to go out and buy new cookware though. To test yours, see if a magnet will stick to it. If it does, it will work on your induction cooktop.

Using magnetic induction heats pans up more quickly than either gas or electric. This saves energy and time. Induction burners also respond immediately to temperature adjustments. If you raise or lower the heat you will see results right away.

As I mentioned before, the induction burner will not work if the transformer (the pot/pan) is not on top of it. That is especially advantageous if you have small children present. It is also a plus if you happen to spill something on the burner. Since the burner does not get hot the splatters do not burn. Many induction burners can also sense if there is nothing in the pot and they will turn off after 60 seconds.

Before I go out and purchase one there are several things I need to consider:

1 – how much do I intend to use it?

2 – how much counter space/storage space will it require: will I leave it out or tuck it away when I am not using it

3 – how much power do I need: some burners have more power levels built in and can reach higher temperatures

4 – what size: how many people do I regularly cook for? will I need double burners or will a single burner suffice

5 – budget: the sticker shock I initially experienced may reduce depending on how I answered the other questions about an induction cooktop

I was looking at portable induction burners but you can also purchase them as a built-in cooktop. I definitely think they are energy efficient and I like the fact they heat up quickly yet the burner itself does not get hot. I will wait and see how well  my son likes his and maybe even try his myself then decide if I think it is a worthwhile purchase for me.

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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Apple Desserts

Fall is right around the corner and for many of us that comes with visits to local apple orchards. Of course the apples are delicious to eat on their own but there also many different types of apple dessert recipes to tempt us. Here are some differences among some of the various apple desserts:

Apple Brown Betty: baked apples with spiced bread crumbs layered between the fruit

Apple Buckle: moist cake topped with apples and a streusel topping

Apple Cobbler: less fussy than pie;  pie dough, biscuit dough, or cookie dough is spooned/dolloped on the top rather than being chilled and rolled out

Apple Crumble: baked chopped apples with a crisp streusel topping that does not contain oats

Apple Crisp: apple mixture with a topping that includes oats and brown sugar

Apple Pandowdy: this apple dessert is “dowdied” up when dough is cut or broken into pieces and pressed into the bubbling juices

I love Summer but am looking forward to Fall and visiting some local apple orchards. Whether I eat the apples as a snack or incorporate them into a dessert I know they will be delicious.

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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Scrambled Eggs in the Oven

We had weekend guests recently and I was looking for some easy, time-saving recipes for brunch that would allow me to enjoy my company rather than standing in the kitchen cooking. When I was sharing what I did with my co-workers one of them suggested this would also be a great dish to prepare while children are getting ready for school in the morning to give them something substantial for their tummies.

I wanted to serve scrambled eggs and decided to try making them in the oven. I was very impressed with the outcome! The process was very simple and very similar to making scrambled eggs on the stovetop. For mine I melted butter in my baking dish before adding the egg/milk mixture I had whisked together. I started with one dozen eggs in a square baking dish but you could easily do two dozen eggs in a 9×13 pan. The American Egg Board has a good recipe on their website. After the initial 10  minutes in the oven I was skeptical as the mixture was still very runny but they set up nicely after an additional 10 minutes. They were not quite done at that point so I put them back for 5 more minutes and they were perfect.

Scrambled eggs for a group in 25 minutes!

I started with a dozen eggs.
Whisking eggs and milk together
After 10 minutes in the oven
Finished product!
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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