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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Homemade Eggnog Made Safe

Eggnog and holidays seem to go hand in hand.  While prepared eggnog is readily available at the supermarket, there is nothing like homemade eggnog.  But homemade eggnog has the potential to spoil holiday fun and cause Salmonella poisoning from the use of raw or undercooked eggs.  Salmonella bacteria is a potential risk even when refrigerated eggs with clean, uncracked shells are used.

Since eggs are a standard ingredient in most homemade eggnog recipes, let’s look at someways to convert a special family recipe into a safe recipe.

Use a cooked egg base.  FoodSafety.gov  recommends a cooked egg base for eggnog. This is especially important if you are serving people at high risk for foodborne infections: young children and pregnant women (non-alcoholic eggnog), older adults, and those with weakened immune systems.  Eggs must be cooked to 160 °F to kill bacteria that may be present such as Salmonella.   A cooked egg base or custard is made by heating half of the the milk and/or cream to almost boiling and ever so slowly adding the beaten egg yolks (or sometimes the whole egg) and sugar (or any sugar substitute).  Continue to cook and stir the mixture gently until an internal temperature of 160 °F is reached.  At this temperature, the mixture will firmly coat a metal spoon and remain separated when a finger is drawn through it. Do not let the mixture go beyond 160 °F as above that temperature, the eggs are likely to curdle.  (If curdling occurs, put the mixture in a blend and blend until smooth.)   Place the mixture in a bowl of  ice water to stop the cooking action and prevent curdling or further curdling and then refrigerate.

Use pasteurized eggs yolks. Eggnog may be safely made at home by using whole, liquid or pasteurized eggs or egg substitutes in place of raw eggs. Pasteurized eggs are found next to regular eggs at the store.  Commercial pasteurization of eggs is a heat process at low temperatures that destroys any Salmonella that might be present without having a noticeable effect on flavor or nutritional content. Even if you are using pasteurized eggs for your eggnog, both the FDA and the USDA recommend starting with a cooked egg base for optimal safety.  When egg substitute products are used, some experimentation might be needed to figure out the right amount to add for the best flavor.

Use alcohol to inhibit bacterial growth.  While alcohol will inhibit bacterial growth, adding alcohol (in amounts recommended by most recipes) will not be sufficient to kill bacteria.  However, if one wants to use alcohol, Cooks Illustrated suggests that 1 1/2 ounces of 80 proof liquor per egg and three weeks of aging in the refrigerator is sufficient to kill bacteria when dairy is omitted until ready to serve. Such was conclusively proven by microbiologists at Rockefeller University where salmonella bacteria was purposely added  to eggnog and analyzed over a three-week period. By the three-week mark, the alcohol had rendered the eggnog completely sterile.

Substitute egg whites.  If a recipe calls for adding beaten egg whites to the hot egg/milk custard, use pasteurized egg whites.  While pasteurized egg whites do not whip to the same volume as raw egg, they are safe.  It has not been proven that raw egg whites are free of Salmonella bacteria; NOR has it been shown that when adding them to the hot milk/egg custard, the custard remains hot enough to kill any bacteria.  Another good substitute is whipping cream whipped to soft peaks added at the time of serving.

Here’s to a safe and worry-free holiday!  Follow these suggestions for your favorite eggnog recipe to assure everyone can enjoy delicious, creamy homemade eggnog without worry of a foodborne illness.

 

 

 

 

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Thanksgiving Food Safety Tips

This is your friendly reminder to keep your friends and family safe this Thanksgiving. We speak a lot about food safety this time of year. Here are some tips to remember.

  1. Remember to wash your hands often. Use soap and wash for at least 20 seconds.
  2. Resist the urge to wash your turkey. Washing will not make it safer to eat and the splash of water from the turkey will cross contaminate other parts of your kitchen.
  3. The safest way to make stuffing or dressing is to cook it outside the bird.
  4. Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. In some families, the tradition is to leave food out on the table all afternoon so people can nibble a bit more. This is a recipe for food bourne illness. Leave leftovers on the table for less than two hours. The clock starts ticking on the two hours as food comes out of the oven or refrigerator.
  5. Cool leftovers quickly. Store them in shallow pans separated in the refrigerator or freezer. Storing leftovers on the back porch or garage is NOT a good idea. Store them in a refrigerator set between 32°F and 40°F. Closer to 32°F is best.
  6. Use separate cutting boards for raw meat, cooked meat, and vegetables.
  7. Keep that pumpkin pie in the refrigerator.
  8. Use a meat thermometer to know when your turkey is done. Cook to 165°F.
  9. Use or freeze your leftovers within 3-5 days.
  10. Call AnswerLine if you have any questions. We really do love to help.
Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Talkin’ Turkey

Thanksgiving is the busiest time of the year at AnswerLine. Most callers eat turkey only one or two times a year and often do not’ feel comfortable preparing turkey for guests. We are always happy to talk turkey with callers.

We often get these questions:

  1. How large a turkey should I buy? You should plan on two and a half or three servings per pound. Buy a larger bird if leftovers are important to you.
  2. How soon can I buy a fresh turkey? Use your fresh turkey within two days. Call us for advice if you buy your turkey too early.
  3. How long does it take to thaw a turkey? Plan on 24 hours for each 4-5 pounds of turkey. Remember to thaw it in the refrigerator.  Once thawed, use within two days.
  4. Oh my, I forgot to take my turkey out of the freezer. What can I do? You have two options. You can cook a frozen turkey, just remember to take the giblets and neck out of the cavity after an hour or so. Plan to cook the frozen turkey for one and a half times longer than a thawed bird. Or you can use the cold-water method. Thaw the turkey by leaving it in the plastic wrapper and place in a sink full of cold water. This method takes about 30 minutes per pound to thaw. Change the water every half hour. I was a bit skeptical the first time I tried this method, but it does work well.
  5. What temperature should I set the oven for turkey? 325°F
  6. If you want to cook the turkey the day before Thanksgiving, call us for advice.

These are the top turkey questions callers ask every year. Please call us with all of your questions. We love to help.

 

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Tips for Tri-Tip

Because I have family in California, I get the opportunity to visit now and again.  On one of my trips, I encountered one of the culinary delights of California–a cut of meat called tri tip.  Tri-tip is a tender, lean beef cut coming from the bottom sirloin that gets its name from its triangular shape. It is sold as a small roast or cut into steaks; there are only two of these cuts in each animal. What makes it so special is the full flavor it offers at an affordable price.  Roasting and grilling are the best preparation methods as the tri tip is considered a lean cut of meat.

While readily available nearly everywhere in California, tri-tip is not a common cut in the Midwest.  However, because I enjoyed it so much, I’ve frequently asked at different stores if it was possible to order and usually got a “no” response.  Recently I was shopping at my local Fareway store and there in the meat case was a sirloin tri-tip!!!  Right then and there, I made my first tri-tip roast purchase and profusely thanked the meat department manager for acquiring the cut.  (Manager said that they will continue to carry it as long as they can get it.)

Having never prepared a tri tip on my own, I wanted to do it right.  I looked at several recipes and blogs which offered a lot of insight.  Eventually I decided on an online recipe for Santa Maria Style Tri Tip. (Santa Maria is famous for their tri tip barbecue.)  My choice could not have been better!!  We enjoyed a succulent roast prepared on the grill.

Here’s some tips that I acquired from reading various blogs and recipes that may help anyone else who would like to try a tri tip roast should they see one in their meat counter.

  • Be prepared for uneven cooking.  Due to the triangular shape, the roast typically has thicker and thinner parts.  Because of the variation in thickness, the two parts of the cut will cook different, thinner faster than thicker.  This is offers pieces ranging from more well-done to medium-rare.  The flavor is the same regardless.
  • Use a rub and allow the meat to marinate with the rub for a minimum of three hours and up to three days.  The rub can be applied dry or with a bit of olive oil.  If oil is used, the recommended method is to apply oil lightly to the meat before the rub.  Oil can be used after the rub is applied but if the meat will be grilled, the oil may cause flash burning.
  • After applying rub, the roast should be wrapped tightly in plastic and refrigerated until ready to grill or roast.  If grilling, bring the meat out 30-60 minutes beforehand.
  • Whether grilling or roasting, sear the roast on both sides to lock in moisture and flavor.  This can be done on the grill or in a skillet.
  • Stop cooking at a temperature a few degrees lower than the desired doneness.  Use an instant-read thermometer to check the internal temperature of the thickest part of the meat until it reaches 120-125°F for medium-rare or 130-135°F for medium.  Do not cook beyond medium as the cut contains very little fat.
  • Allow the roast to rest for at least 15 minutes before slicing and serving.  Remove the meat from the grill and wrap it loosely in aluminum foil.  The foil will collect any juices that are released and also allow the meat to reabsorb some juice.  During this resting time, carryover cooking occurs and the internal temperature of the meat will rise (depending upon thickness, the internal temperature will increase 10 to 15 degrees during resting).  This is why it is important to stop cooking before the desired doneness temperature is reached with nearly any kind of meat.
  • Slice against the grain.  Per Traeger, a little-unknown fact about tri tip is that it is comprised of two different grain directions, making slicing it correctly slightly more difficult than other meats. Incorrectly slicing the meat can make a perfectly grilled or roasted tri tip tough and chewy.  Check the Traeger website for great tips and pictures for correct slicing.
  • While I have yet to try oven roasting tri tip, I will start with the Better Homes and Garden version and experiment from there.  The BH&G method does not include pan searing which many recipes and blogs recommend.  Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner is also a good resource for tri tip preparation tips.

By following these simple tips, I hope your first experience with tri tip will be as good as mine.  If you’re already a Tri Tip Queen or King, I’d love to know your tips for success, too.

A tri tip fact sheet is available from the Beef Board which includes nutrition and calorie information as well as additional cooking tips.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Fall Spice Refresher

Summer may not be over yet but people are already craving spice-flavored foods, beverages,and smells.  Even before we had our Labor Day barbeques, Starbucks introduced it’s fall Pumpkin Spice Latte because customers were asking.  “Sweet” spices–cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, and ginger–go hand in hand with fall and holidays.  Now is a good time to prepare for the season of “spice and nice” and soups and stews by going through our spice collection to make sure we are ready when it comes time to reach.
Ground spices retain their goodness for about six months.  Whole spices such as allspice berries and cinnamon sticks stay fresher longer, 1-2 years, if stored in air-tight containers.  Vanilla extract is commonly used with the “sweet” spices to bring out their best.  Vanilla retains it’s best flavor for 12 months.  And while one is in the process, why not check out the herbs, too.  Like ground spices, herbs retain their best flavor for six months.  All spices and extracts should be kept in locations away from heat and light.  If a date is not present on the container, apply the smell test.  If you don’t detect an intense fragrance when you open the container, it’s likely time to replace it.  I’m always amazed at how much more flavorable something tastes when fresh spices or herbs are used.
While fall spices are reminenct of crips days, rustling leaves, baked goods, and hearty soups and stews, there are always lots of questions about which to use for what.  Here’s a quick primer:
Allspice (whole or ground)  is the dried unripe berries of the Pimenta dioica tree found in wamer parts of the world.  The berries combine the flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves and complements stews, yellow vegetables, pork, poultry, cakes, cookies, and sweet breads.  When ground allspice is not available, a good substitution is a mixture of half ground cinnamon and half ground cloves.
Cardomom is a blend of seeds that bring a warm and aromatic flavor that is delightful in baked goods like gingerbread; it is also a staple of Indian cuisine. It is often used  with cinnamon, cloves and chocolate.
Cinnamon (ground or stick) is a spice obtained from the inner bark of  the Cinnamomum tree. With its mildly-sweet-to-bittersweet flavor, cinnamon is a nice addition to baked goods, stews, curries, fruit, squash, oatmeal, pork and beef.  It pairs well with fruits and chocolate.  Cinnamon sticks are perfect for mulling cider, tea, or other fall beverages.
Cloves (whole and ground) are the aromatic flower buds from a tree found in India and other countries in that part of the world.  Cloves goes well with sweet breads, yellow vegetables, chocolate, and fruit.
Chili powder is the dried, pulverized fruit of one or more varieties of chili peppers, sometimes with the addition of other spices. It is used as a spice to add pungency and flavor to dishes. Commonly used in traditional Latin American dishes like enchiladas and tacos, a spoonful of chili powder also adds a welcome kick to grilled meats, stew, soup, a pot of beans, vegetables, and even chocolate.
Ginger adds a pungent zest to both sweet and savory dishes. It is derived from the Ginger plant rhizome known as ginger root or simply ginger.   Ginger is widely used as a spice or a folk medicine.  As a spice, ginger has so many uses:  baked goods, stir-fries, curries, hot tea and seafood. It also offers a great accent to garlic.
Spice Mixes (Apple Pie Spice, Pumpkin Pie Spice) are blends of ground cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, and ginger made specifically for convenience.  Both can be used as a seasoning in pie as well as general cooking and baking to enhance the flavors of any products using apples or pumpkin/squash.  There are many DIY recipes for making blends using basic spices such as these.
Enjoy the coming of fall and the smells and flavors that enhance it!
Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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‘Tis the Season for Fruit Fly Control

Macro view of a fruit-fly sitting on watermelon.  Note the red eyes.

As the garden produce has come into the kitchen, so have the fruit flies.  Fruit flies are those pesky tiny insects harboring around the kitchen with reddish eyes and are attracted to anything fruit or vegetable in the area.  Beyond being a nuisance, they can also carry harmful bacteria.  They multiply rapidly so if not controlled quickly, a small problem becomes a big problem.

One of the best ways to control fruit flies in the home is to practice excellent sanitation, eliminate rotting fruits and vegetables and keep as much food in the refrigerator as possible. Keep counters, sinks, and drains clean at all times–even the dishwasher. Trash should be kept tied and taken out frequently, and compost scraps should not be allowed to pileup on the counter. Cracked or damaged portions of fruits and vegetables should be cut off and discarded immediately to prevent infestation.

Chemical control is not recommended; however, you can make your own traps using attractants commonly found in the kitchen such as cider vinegar, wine or even a small piece of fruit.   Put a small amount of the attractant in a glass or jar, cover  with a plastic wrap that fits tightly to the glass, and poke very small holes in the plastic.  Fruit flies will enter the glass but find themselves trapped.  The University of Nebraska offered another simple trap using yeast and sugar.

Once you’ve done the work to kill or trap fruit flies, keep them from coming back with these preventative measures:

1. Keep the counter clean. Fruit flies don’t just like to eat fruit; they also like spilled food, crumbs, spilled juice — just about anything. Wipe your counters frequently throughout the day and dry thoroughly.

2. Wash any produce coming into the home. Fruit flies piggyback their way into our homes on fruits and vegetables. By washing fruit and vegetables, you get rid of any eggs that may have been laid on the produce.

3. Keep produce covered or in the refrigerator. If produce must sit on the counter, be sure that it is fully contained and covered.

4. Remove odors immediately.  If something smells, chances are it will attracts fruit flies, too. Clean drains, garbage cans, pet bedding, litter boxes and similar things.

Female fruit flies lay 100 or more eggs per day.  With the possibility of new eggs hatching,  a couple of weeks of diligence will be necessary.  Continue using traps,  depriving them of food and water, and stepping up sanitary procedures to keep  them from breeding and eventually eliminating them from the home.

 

 

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Plan to pack a healthy school lunch

children at lunchBefore we know it, school will be back in session. We spend a lot of time and money preparing kids for school. School supplies, new clothing, and new backpacks are on sale this time of year. There is another consideration when preparing for a new school year. Your child may be one that takes his or her lunch to school.

This is a great time to stock up on small zipper bags to pack lunches as well as small containers, a small thermos, and plastic silverware. Keeping your kitchen well stocked makes it easier to pack a quick lunch. Consider packing lunches the night before to keep the morning less chaotic.

Many of us consider the start of another school year a good time to start new healthy habits. You may want to try one or more of the following ideas this year.

  1. Plan to spend time with your child discussing likes and dislikes.
  2. Be sure to stock the kitchen with the things you will need to pack a lunch. Consider a new lunch box to make carrying a lunch to school more special.
  3. Plan menus ahead. You can plan menus for the month, plan some special occasion lunches, or plan a list of menus that you can cycle through over time.
  4. Children that help prepare meals often eat better. Allow your child to choose what they want to eat and ask them to help pack the lunch.
  5. Offer healthy foods as choices for lunches. Remember to model healthy choices for your child.
  6. Occasionally pack a surprise for your child. A note, sticker, new pencil can make lunch feel special.
  7. Remember to pack only as much food as your child can eat during the short time he or she has for lunch at school. A half sandwich is best for younger children. Small amounts of raw vegetables or fruit are best.
  8. Check with your school so you know what the rules are for allergens like peanut butter. Protect all the students by following those rules.

Remember to keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Preheat the thermos with hot or cold water before adding your hot or cold food. Separate dry, crisp food from moist food. Let the child assemble the cheese and crackers or sandwich that has a moist filling during lunch. Prepackaged foods in individual servings may be convenient but are often more expensive than making your own prepackaged foods. Package some foods in advance and they will remain safe for days. Think nuts, crackers, or dried foods.

With a little planning, you can make this school year a healthy one for your child. You may even improve your own lunches, too.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

More Posts - Website

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