Sheet Pan Cooking

With the beginning of a New Year, many of us are looking to eat healthier but also want recipes that are simple and easy to prepare with quick clean-up. For me, sheet pan cooking is a good solution. You can have protein and vegetables ready in a short time for dinner. It is also a great way to use any leftover vegetables you might have in your refrigerator.

The concept is pretty straight forward but there are a few tips to keep in mind for more successful sheet pan cooking. First of all you will want to use the right pan – it should be sturdy, measure 18 by 13 inches, and have a one inch rim all the way around it. A half sheet pan is ideal. Jellyroll pans will look similar but in general are smaller and flimsier than half sheet pans. The size is important so your ingredients can spread out. This will help them roast rather than steam which causes mushiness.  The rim is important to allow air to flow across the pan which helps the ingredients brown and get a bit crispy. The sturdiness of the pan is important to allow for high oven heat and sometimes the broiler. For speedier and easier clean-up, line the pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper.

When selecting vegetables to use, remember denser vegetables (potatoes, carrots, etc) take longer to cook than softer vegetables so you will want to roast the denser vegetables for 30 minutes or more before adding the softer vegetables to the pan. This sometimes takes trial and error so write a few notes down as you are trying various combinations of vegetables. Choose vegetables that are in season that you like to roast and cut them into roughly the same size pieces for more even cooking. You may want to consider adding fruits to your sheet pan dinner as well. Grapes, apples, pears, peaches and plums all roast nicely. They will cook more quickly so add them at the end of the cooking time.

Once you have your vegetables and fruits prepped, toss them with oil to completely coat them. This helps keep them from drying out. You can use olive, grapeseed, coconut or canola oil. Put the cut up vegetable and fruit pieces in a large bowl, pour your choice of oil and any seasonings you may be using over them, and stir with a spoon or your hands to cover the pieces with the oil. You may want to coat the denser pieces first then use what is left in the bowl to coat the softer pieces that will be added later.

It is best to avoid cuts of meat that require braising when you are doing sheet pan cooking. If you are using breaded chicken or fish, use a wire rack to keep the breaded ingredients above the moisture in the pan. This will help the meat keep it’s crisp coating. You would also want to use a rack if you are roasting a cut of beef or pork so the ingredients get basted with the juices and the meat gets browned.

If your sheet pan meal looks too pale to you when you take it out of the oven, try putting it under the broiler for a short time for color.

There are many recipes available online from many sources to help you get started. The possibilities are practically endless!



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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The Pioneer Woman

I love to travel and was fortunate to recently go on a trip with a wonderful friend to Pawhuska, Oklahoma to see the Pioneer Woman sites. After watching her show on the Food Network it was a real treat to get to see the Mercantile and the Pawhuska area. We stayed at a hotel in downtown Pawhuska within walking distance of the Mercantile. We were happy we did that as it allowed us to easily walk to the Mercantile at off hours that were not so crowded. Several thousand people visit the Mercantile every day and it is not uncommon to have to wait in line a very long time (up to two hours) to be able to eat in the restaurant. We made sure we were there for breakfast by 7am and ate a very early dinner to avoid the lines.

There are two stories at the Mercantile. On the main level are the deli/restaurant and the retail shop. You can have a sit down meal or go through a line to pick up prepared foods to take with you. There is also a coffee shop on the main level where you can buy coffees and specialty drinks. I did not try the Cowboy Coffee or the Spicy Cowgirl coffee but they were popular choices with the patrons who were there at the same time I was. My two favorite menu items were the Olive Cheese Bread (which I will try to recreate at home!) and the Prune Cake. My friend and I were leery of trying the cake but our very friendly and knowledgeable server highly recommended it. We were not disappointed!

Upstairs at the Mercantile are a coffee bar, bakery, and a nice relaxation area to enjoy the treats you purchased. They also sell several types of candy. The picures on the wall were all taken by Ree and were a joy to look at. There were very nice restrooms on each level – they have thought of everything!

The Mercantile was actually a mercantile originally known as the Osage Mercantile back in the 1800s. The Drummond family has done an amazing job restoring and refurbishing it. It is well worth the visit. It is a fun and family-friendly destination. Check the website ahead of time and also check with the deli when you arrive as tours of the Lodge where the Pioneer Woman shows are often filmed are available on certain dates. The tours are free and directions are given to you if you are lucky enough to be there on a day tours are available. Tour tickets are not available in advance.

The Mercantile is closed on Sundays and Pawhuska is a small town but it has a lot going for it and many interesting things to do in the area. Pawhuska is known as the gateway to the Tallgrass Prairie. It is definitely worth a drive through the prairie if you have time. Pawhuska is also the home of America’s first Boy Scout Troop. It is a fascinating area of the country to visit. If you are a follower of the Pioneer Woman and watch her shows on TV I highly recommend you add this to your vacation destination list.

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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We had a caller recently who was interested in making tapioca pudding but had picked up the large pearl variety instead of the small. I enjoy tapioca pudding as well and thought it would be interesting to find some tapioca tidbits.

Tapioca is a starch extracted from the cassava root and although it has little nutritional value (tapioca is fat, protein, and gluten free) it is often used as a thickening agent as it has a neutral flavor, strong gelling power and can withstand the freeze/thaw cycle without breaking down. It also helps improve texture and moisture in the absence of gluten which is why it is used in many gluten free products. It is most often sold in pearl form. Small pearls, easily found in the grocery store, are used for puddings, and large pearls, usually found in health/natural food stores, are typically used in boba/bubble tea. It is also sold as flour and in flakes or powders. Some tapioca, sold as “minute” or “instant”, comes in a granulated form. You should use the kind of tapioca your recipe calls for or you may not be happy with the way the finished product gells.

Tapioca pearls must be soaked and then boiled with a liquid to form a gel. They are opaque prior to cooking but turn translucent upon hydration. Usually they are white or off-white but can be dyed to take on many colors which they often do when making boba tea.

If you are considering substituting tapioca starch for cornstarch, Bob’s Red Mill recommends 2 Tablespoons tapioca starch to 1 Tablespoon cornstarch. You can substitute instant tapioca for cornstarch in most recipes 1:1.

Instant, or minute, tapioca is the most commonly used for pie thickening. If you are using it in a pie filling, mix the instant tapioca with the other dry ingredients then toss with your fruit and let set for 10 minutes for the fruit juices to be absorbed. When baking the pie make sure it is bubbly in the center before removing it from the oven. This will assure the thickener has been fully activated. It is also recommended to let the baked pie rest overnight allowing starches within the pie time to re-bond and letting the juices be reabsorbed.

Tapioca can be stored indefinitely as long as it is kept tightly sealed to prevent exposure to heat and moisture.

Our recent caller has inspired me to make some tapioca pudding in the very near future. I may even try the boba/bubble tea! Click this link for a simple Bubble Tea recipe you might enjoy trying.


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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Safely dispose of Fats, Oils, and Grease

As much as we try to be healthy cooks and eaters, a lot of fats, oils, and grease (FOG) are used at Holiday time. Leftover fats, oils, and grease are not to be poured down the drain, through the dishwasher or garbage disposal, or toilet. Once FOG cools, it will solidify and begin blocking the drain. It slowly begins to coat the inside of pipes which will restrict water flow and cause a back-up resulting in inconvenience and potential costs to the homeowner which always seems to happen at the most inopportune time.

The safe way to dispose of FOG is to put it in your garbage or compost. There are a few things you can and should do before disposing of it. Number one is to remove excess FOG from dishes and pans before washing in either the sink or dishwasher. You can do this by using paper towels or even coffee filters. Throw the used paper towels or coffee filters away in your regular garbage.

If you have cooked something that needs to have the FOG drained from it (bacon, ground beef, etc), collect the grease in a container. An aluminum foil lined bowl works great for this. Once the grease is cool you can squeeze the foil closed and dispose of the package in your regular garbage.

Are you planning to deep fry a turkey for the Holidays? If so, remember to dispose of the cooled used oil after cooking. It is not safe to leave the oil in the fryer as it attracts pests and may turn rancid.

There are chemicals on the market that claim to dissolve grease. In most instances those chemicals only move the problem further down the line. Many of those chemicals are also not allowed by city ordinances.

With a little effort on all of our parts we can avoid expensive plumbing mistakes by safely disposing of fats, oils, and grease.

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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Safely disposing of unsafe home canned goods

Canned carrotsMany of you have probably finished your home canning for the season. As you are selecting your jars for use make sure you examine each jar for spoilage. What should you be looking for? First of all make sure the lid is tight and a vacuum seal was created. Look for any streaks of dried food on the outside of the jar. As you look at the contents inside the jar, see if you can detect cloudy canning liquid, rising air bubbles, or any unnatural colors. When you open the jar make sure you do not see any mold growing. Also pay attention to any spurting liquid or odd smells. These things are good indicators of food spoilage. Never taste the food from a jar that you suspect has been spoiled. You will also want to dispose of it properly.

If the jars are still sealed but show signs of spoilage, you can leave the jar intact but write on the jar that it is spoiled or poisonous and to not eat it. You can place those jars in a heavyweight garbage bag, close the bag, and place it in your regular trash container or dispose of it in your nearby landfill.

If the jars are not sealed they should be detoxified before being disposed of. In order to do that you will want to first of all protect yourself by wearing rubber or plastic gloves. Remove the lids from the jars. Carefully place the jars in a large pan on their sides. Add the lids to the pan as well. Add water to the pan until it reaches one inch above the jars. Cover the pan and bring the water to a boil. Boil for 30 minutes to detoxify the possible botulism toxin in the food. Once the food and lids have cooled you can throw them away in your regular trash. Wash the jars and the pan you used in hot soapy water.

To decontaminate any surfaces that the spoiled food may have come in contact with, spray or wet the surface with a solution of one part bleach to five parts water and let it sit for 30 minutes. If you are decontaminating metal utensils, use one teaspoon bleach to one quart of water and again let it sit for 30 minutes. Use paper towels to wipe up any treated spills. Discard of the paper towels in a plastic bag before putting them in your regular trash.

Spoilage in home canned food does happen. Make sure you examine your jars carefully before serving any not only to your family and friends but pets as well.


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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Thanksgiving Cooking Tips

I recently wrote a post on things you can do ahead of time to help make Thanksgiving a little more stress-free. As the holiday approaches ever closer, I thought it would be a good time to refresh our memories on the actual cooking of the turkey and a couple of traditional side dishes.

AnswerLine recommends cooking your fresh or thawed turkey at 325 degrees for 12 minutes per pound. When using your meat thermometer it should register 180 degrees in the thickest part of the thigh and 165 degrees in the breast or stuffing. You will also want to allow a 20-30 minute rest time before serving.

If you have purchased a frozen turkey, you will want to thaw it for 24 hours for every 4-5 pounds of turkey. Thaw it in the refrigerator in it’s packaging until the night before you are going to cook it then place it uncovered on a large roasting pan overnight in the refrigerator to dehydrate the skin. You can massage the skin with softened butter right before cooking.

You should plan on 1 to 1 and 1/2 pounds of turkey per person which would include seconds and leftovers. A twelve pound or larger turkey is recommended as smaller turkeys usually have less meat on the bone.

When deciding which type of potato is best for your mashed potatoes here is a quick guide:

For fluffy mashed potatoes, starchy russets work best. For chunky mashed potatoes, waxy red bliss potatoes work best. For creamy mashed potatoes, Yukon Golds work well. It is not a good idea to mix the different types of potatoes as they cook at different rates. To cook the potatoes begin by cutting them into 1 inch chunks and cover them with cold salted water. Bring them to a boil then lower the heat and simmer uncovered about 20 minutes. When you are ready to mash the potatoes, a ricer or potato masher work best. Blenders, handheld mixers, and food processors tend to overwork the potatoes which causes more starch to be released which results in more gluey mashed potatoes.

To make gravy, melt 1/2 cup butter, stir in 1/2 cup flour to make a roux then add 8 cups of a combination of drippings and broth. You can pour the drippings into a liquid measuring cup and once the fat floats to the top you can spoon it off.

A basic cranberry sauce can be made by adding 2 Tablespoons of water and 1 cup of sugar to a 12 ounce bag of cranberries. Cook over low heat until the berries pop – about 10-20 minutes. This will keep in the refrigerator about 1 week.

AnswerLine will be answering calls from 9:00-4:00 (even over the lunch hour) the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Please call us with any questions you might have! We love to talk with you and help in any way we can!


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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Countdown to Thanksgiving

It is nearly November as I am writing this and I know many of you are already thinking ahead to hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year. Although there are some things that absolutely must be done near or on the day, there are many other things that can be done ahead of time to help you enjoy a less-stressed Thanksgiving.

Now would be a good time to shop for any specialty tools you might need. There may be things you needed last year you didn’t have that you could purchase now. Or maybe you want to upgrade some current tools to help ease the cooking process.

It is not too early to plan your menu so you can create a shopping list. You can also order your turkey now. Allow one to one and one half pounds of turkey per person for seconds and leftovers. Remember, if you order a fresh turkey you need to pick it up only 1-2 days before you are going to use it.

It is a good time to clean out your freezer and begin making and freezing some items. You can pour your cold pumpkin pie filling into a chilled unbaked pie shell and freeze it. Bake it unthawed at 400 degrees for 10 minutes then at 325 degrees to finish it. You can also make and freeze homemade stock for your gravy. Rolls freeze well either baked or unbaked. Fresh cranberries can be frozen up to a year.

You can take inventory of tableware, tablecloths and napkins in case you need to pick up anything extra. Fluffing the tablecloth in the dryer or ironing it now and laying it out on an unused guest bed will save time as the holiday gathering draws near. Planning your centerpiece/decorations and making sure you have everything needed will ease your stress level.

Shopping for non-perishable items can be done now. You could also make sure you have containers and/or bags ready for leftovers for guests.

Thanksgiving will be here before we know it. Hopefully we can all enjoy a low stress holiday!


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!

Thanksgiving is just around the corner and for my family that means enjoying pumpkin pie. If you are planning to do some preparation ahead of time you can pour your cold pumpkin pie filling into a chilled unbaked pie shell and freeze it. When you are ready to bake the pie you can bake it without thawing at 400 degrees for 10 minutes then reduce the heat to 325 degrees to finish it.

You can also freeze baked pumpkin pie. Best quality will be maintained for 1-2 months. Make sure to wrap the pie tightly with aluminum foil or plastic freezer wrap or place it in a heavy-duty freezer bag. The texture may change somewhat when the pie is thawed but the taste should not be affected.

If you find yourself without any pumpkin pie filling on hand when you are ready to bake your pie but you have regular solid canned pumpkin you can make that work. For 30 ounces of pumpkin pie filling, open two 15 ounce cans of pumpkin and take out 1 and 1/3 cups (save that for another use). To the remaining pumpkin add 1/3 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ginger, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon cloves and 1 teaspoon salt.

If you are without pumpkin pie spice, you can easily make your own as well. For each teaspoon needed of pumpkin pie spice, mix together 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice and 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg. Betty Crocker has a similar DIY pumpkin spice that makes a larger amount you can have on hand for your Fall baking: Mix together 3 Tablespoons ground cinnamon, 2 teaspoons ground ginger, 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg, 1 and 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice and 1 and 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves.

Pumpkin pies can be stored loosely covered in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. Pumpkin pies should not be left at room temperature for more than 2 hours. Bacteria grow rapidly at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees.

I hope you enjoy baking with some pumpkin during this Fall season!

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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