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

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

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

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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Making Scones

One of my favorite things to make are scones. I like to make them enough that I have even purchased an official scone pan that makes 16 small scones from one batch. The scone pan is not necessary but it makes all of the scones the same shape and size so I look like a professional even though I am not! I have experimented making many different kinds including orange, vanilla, chocolate chip and lemon but my favorite one is a mixed berry scone that I found when looking at recipes on the internet. Through trial and error, I know that adding sour cream to a recipe makes them extra moist and delicious so I like to add some to all of the recipes I try. I know that the dough will be very crumbly and that if I over mix it will cause them to be tough. I thought I would share with you some of the techniques so you can try making some at your house.




First measure your dry ingredients into a bowl. This includes flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.


Grate butter into the flour mixture and blend into flour with your fingers.  Be sure that your butter is very cold!

Grating the butter makes it blend into the four much easier than cutting it into small pieces.

Mix wet ingredients together in another bowl. This includes milk, sour cream, egg and vanilla.  Add the liquid ingredients and the frozen berries (I used frozen blueberries, raspberries and blackberries). Don’t let the berries thaw or they will color the dough and you will not have any whole fruit pieces in your baked scone.

Mix until just combined. Do not overmix or the scone will be tough.

Shape into a square on a floured cutting board. I then cut it into 16 pieces (four squares with four triangle shapes).  If you wanted larger scones you could cut them into 8 instead of 16.

After putting the pieces in the pan I sprinkle with a course sugar before baking.

Bake at 400° F. for about 18 minutes until the scones are just starting to turn light brown. I cook mine in my convection oven at 375° F. for approximately 15 minutes.

If using a pan, allow to cool for 10 minutes then remove from pan and place on a cooking rack.

Making scones is easy and fun!  Try it out for yourself!






Beth Marrs

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Adult Home Economics Education. I love to cook and entertain and spend time with my family.

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I was at the grocery store yesterday looking at peppers when the lady next to me asked if I knew there were male and female peppers. She had learned it on Facebook! I have been a home economist for many years and had never learned that to be true. She went on to tell me that the peppers with three bumps or lobes on the bottom were male and were best for cooking. The ones with four bumps on the bottom were female and were best for eating raw. I did not want to argue with her on the spot but I went straight home and went to the research based sites I use online to confirm that the bumps had nothing to do with the peppers being male or female. It is indeed a garden myth but one that does circulate periodically on social media. How many bumps a pepper has on the bottom is primarily related to the variety and growing conditions.

Bell peppers grow from flowers possessing both male and female parts. They do not have a gender.

The number of lobes on a pepper also has nothing to do with taste. Sweetness is usually a factor of ripeness. Bell shaped peppers in their immature state are green with a slightly bitter flavor. As they mature they turn bright red and become sweeter. There are also yellow, orange, white, pink, and purple varieties of peppers.

The heat of a pepper is measured in Scoville units. Bell peppers have a Scoville heat unit of 0 while habanero peppers have a Scoville heat unit of 100,000 to 350,000. To remove some of the heat from peppers you can remove the seeds and interior ribs before cooking.

Peppers add flavor and color to so many dishes and are also great for snacking.


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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Kiwi Berries

When I was in the grocery store recently I ran across kiwi berries in the produce section. I had not seen them before and was interested in finding out more about them. They are at their peak in the Fall, mostly September and October.

Kiwi berries are grape-sized with a flavor similar to grocery store kiwifruit though somewhat sweeter. The berries have a thin, smooth skin that is edible and typically they are emerald green in color. The shape can vary from round to elongate. They are higher in vitamin C than oranges and provide other antioxidants, fiber, and essential minerals.

Kiwi berries are grown in areas of the United States with cooler climates. They are the kind of fruit that can withstand very cold temperatures. Once you get them home, you should store kiwi berries in the refrigerator.

I think they would be a nice addition to a lunchbox, salad, or anytime as a snack.

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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Flavored Pie Crust

I have a dear friend coming to visit from out of state for a few days who loves to cook and try new things. One of the things that has interested me lately is flavored pie crust. I’m hoping she will be up for experimenting with me!

In my research I have come across many interesting flavors and flavor combinations to try. I have also learned less is best when adding flavors to pie crust. The idea is to enhance the filling flavor and not to compete with it. Vanilla would probably work with just about any pie filling but citrus would work best with fruit pies and many herbs would work great with savory pot pies.

Dry flavorings work better than liquid as you don’t want to add too much moisture to the pie crust. Extra moisture could cause the pie crust to become tough. Extracts, like vanilla or almond, even though liquid, would add very little moisture compared to the flavor they would impart. In general though, it is best to add dry flavorings. Citrus zest would be a better choice than citrus juice.

I found some very interesting combinations online using herbs and poppy seeds as well as cream cheese, peanut butter, and chocolate. Cinnamon would be a nice addition for a pumpkin pie. I think our first attempt will be with peanut butter. It seems a bit labor intensive to freeze the peanut butter in a thin layer and cut it into cubes before cutting it into the pastry mixture but I think it will definitely be worth it to use with a chocolate cream pie!

Here are some suggestions from Bon Appetit to get you started thinking:

•¼ tsp. ground allspice + ½ tsp. orange blossom water in crust —> pumpkin or sweet potato pie filling

•1 tsp. poppyseeds + 1 tsp. thyme leaves in crust —> lemon meringue pie filling

•¼ tsp. ground anise + seeds from ½ vanilla pod —> apple pie filling

•1 tsp. finely chopped rosemary + 1 tsp. finely grated orange zest —> apple pie filling

•1 tsp. poppyseeds + 1 tsp. thyme leaves —> chocolate pie filling

•½ tsp. almond extract + 1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest in crust —> chess or other custard pie filling

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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Tips for preventing food from sticking to the pan!

We had an interesting email this week from a person who wanted to know how to prevent food from sticking in a pan. Sometimes when I’m using my stainless steel sauce and fry pans I do have a problem with food sticking in the pans. I read up on this problem and thought that it might be something interesting to share in our blog. I particularly liked this article from the Science of Cooking.

I do have some nice stainless pans and have been frustrated in the past when I’ve had something stick to the pan. I also have some non-stick pans and I tend to reach for them first if I’m cooking something that could stick to the pan.

I’ve learned that I should start with a hot pan and add a small amount of oil to prevent sticking. Cold oil placed in a hot pan will spread out very thin and allow me to use less oil when cooking. Waiting until the oil is hot before adding food is also very important. Also, remember to listen to the sizzle when the food is frying. That is an interaction between the hot oil and the moisture in the food. When the sizzling stops, the food may be starting to stick to the pan. This is a great reason to stay close when frying food.

It might be tempting to squeeze all the food into the fry pan, but frying food in smaller batches will result in a better quality product with less chance for the food to stick to the pan. Crowded food tends to release moisture into the pan. Foods fried this way tend to be soggier and less crisp.   After all the batches are fried, you can place them into the pan together to be sure the food is nice and hot and crisp.

I may also be guilty of moving the food too quickly when I’m browning it in a pan. Allowing the food to cook a bit longer before turning it can allow it to naturally release from the pan.

There are two more common sense tips for avoiding food stuck onto the pan.   First, always start with a clean pan and second, always start with dry food that is not too cold.

The next time I need to fry some food, I’ll reach for my stainless steel skillet and try these suggestions.



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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Can your own pie filling!

Callers have been asking for recipes to make their own canned pie filling a lot lately. It can be frustrating for a home canner to hear that the only recommended starch in pie filling recipes is Clear Jel. This product is not typically available in a local grocery store. The best option for purchasing Clear Jel is the internet. The National Center for Home Food Preservation has the following information on their website.

Clear Jel® is a chemically modified corn starch that produces excellent sauce consistency even after fillings are canned and baked. Other available starches break down when used in these pie fillings, causing a runny sauce consistency. Clear Jel® is available only through a few supply outlets and it is not widely available in grocery stores. Find out about its availability prior to gathering other ingredients to make these pie fillings. If you cannot find it, check Internet stores, or ask your county Extension family and consumer sciences educator about sources for Clear Jel®.

We do have a way for home canners to work around the Clear Jel problem. Sliced apples can be processed in a medium or heavy syrup. When you want to bake a pie with your home canned apples, simply thicken them after taking them out of the jar and then put them into your pie crust. It adds another step but is the best way to make apple pie filling without Clear Jel.

Enjoy a “fresh” apple pie any time.

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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Up with Strawberries!

During the spring, summer, and fall months, I repeatedly hear,  “ What do you have in your front yard—those white columns inside of a black fence?”  What these curiosity seekers are asking about are my strawberry towers—strawberry plants grown UP or vertically instead of in a bed.  And the fence????  “You know how strawberries run!”  Not, it’s to protect the plants from the deer and rabbits that enjoy the plants and fruits as much as I do.

Several years ago, we were traveling through Minnesota and came upon a pick-your-own strawberry farm in August.  Out of curiosity, we stopped.  Inside of a green house, we found pots atop pots of strawberries being grown vertically, not in the typical low-grow patch.  And hanging on those plants, were a plethora of huge, red, succulent strawberries.  It didn’t take me long to decide that this was a much better way to grow strawberries than in the garden bed we had.  I became almost giddy with excitement as I imagined not fighting weeds, rodents, bugs, and rotting strawberries.  And best of all, no “strawberry stance” back-bending or down-on-your-knees work looking under every leaf or reaching to the middle for another berry.

My husband spent considerable time researching where to purchase the strawberry towers we had seen in Minnesota and found them at  Agro-Tower.  We initially ordered one set of six to try them out. To keep the pots together and sturdy, my husband attached a metal pipe to the center of a tractor wheel weight.  The metal pipe slips through the center of each strawberry pot with the first pot resting on the weight; the tractor weight made a very sturdy anchor.  Each pot has six open cups to hold a single strawberry plant.  When stacked on top of each other, the openings are alternated so the plants receive adequate light and water and allow the fruit to hang out of for easy picking.  With success our first year, we ordered three additional sets.

However, it is not necessary to purchase containers as they can be an investment.  All kinds of containers can be used for growing strawberries.  In the process of searching for the towers, we came across numerous DIY web articles and u-tube videos showing different styles of towers and containers. The University of California’s master gardener’s page shows how to make bucket planters.  Strawberry plants easily adapt to small spaces so containers are perfect as long as the plants get sun and plenty of moisture and nutrients. Depending on the tower height and configuration, you can have dozens of plants in less than one square foot making them ideal for the patio or deck or as a piece of “art” in the flower garden.

Growing strawberries in tower containers is different than growing in a garden so you’ll want to keep the following tips in mind. (For additional information, check out Growing Strawberries in Containers.)

  1. Ever-bearing strawberry varieties are best for containers.  They bear some fruit in mid-June and occasionally through the summer; they give a good harvest late summer and into the fall right up to frost if the plants are carefully cared for.
  2. Potting soil is a must to provide good drainage and nutrient distribution.
  3. Purchase new plants and potting soil each season to avoid disease from the previous crop.
  4. Add a good vegetable and flower fertilizer to each container before planting. Fertilize frequently throughout the season to keep the plants healthy and productive.
  5. Trim the runners off when they start to appear. However, if you have a missing plant in your containers, you can lay a close runner on the missing area and let it take root.  Trimming the runners promotes growth and more berries in the fall.
  6. Keep the fruit picked off as the berries mature. This is definitely not hard to do!!

I find that the fruit quality is better when grown in containers.   Strawberries that sit on damp ground start to rot or seem to bring the potential for rot with them even after harvest so their shelf life is really short.  By keeping them up in the air, they dry quickly and are not in contact with diseases and funguses in the soil that cause rot.  Nearly every berry is perfect when plucked from the plant and have a longer shelf life in the refrig.  I store them unwashed in an open container in the refrigerator fruit drawer.  When I get too many to eat fresh, I wash, stem, place them on a cookie sheet, and pop them into the freezer for a couple of hours before I bag and return them to the freezer to use for smoothies, jams and other recipes throughout the winter months.

So if you enjoy red, ripe, juicy, sweet strawberries (high in vitamins and antioxidants, too) from the garden but detest the effort it takes to grow or pick them in a bed, consider going “up with strawberries!” I think you’ll be glad you did!

PS – Vertical gardens are good for some vegetables and herbs, too.

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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