Stuffing or Dressing? To Stuff or Not? Which is IT?

Whether you choose to stuff or fill the bird or prepare stuffing outside of the turkey, each preparation is a personal preference or family tradition made with a combination of bread, vegetables, herbs, spices and perhaps a protein, dried fruits, and nuts. The difference between stuffing and dressing depends on how it’s prepared and regional or family traditions. Stuffing refers to filling the cavity, while dressing is a name for stuffing that is cooked separately from poultry, meat, or vegetables and served alongside it, rather than inside it. Which is it in your house?

With Thanksgiving Day just around the corner, November 21 is appropriately designated National Stuffing Day since we are already thinking about the stuffing, filling, or dressing to accompany the Thanksgiving turkey.  However, National Stuffing Day could also be in recognition of stuffing used in pockets of other cuts of meat, fish or vegetables that make excellent vessels for stuffing.

To stuff or not to stuff is the most often asked Thanksgiving turkey question?  The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends cooking the stuffing outside (external) of the bird for optimal safety; therefore, making it a dressing served on the side.  The safety concerns have to do with salmonella and other bacteria, which can come from eggs in the stuffing or from the interior surface of the turkey’s cavity. If the bird is removed from the oven before the stuffing reaches an internal temperature of 165°F, some bacteria could remain alive and make diners sick. 

There are pros and cons to both cooking styles.

In-Bird Stuffing. The primary advantages to an in-bird stuffing are that it is moist, sticky, and has all the flavors of the bird.  To be safe, it must reach an internal temperature of 165ºF, which means the bird is likely to cook longer or to an even higher temperature resulting in a potentially dry bird.  Stuffing cannot be prepared ahead; it must be prepared just before spooning the hot stuffing mixture into the cavity and placed in the oven.  The amount of stuffing in a cavity is limited to 1/2 to 1 cup of prepared stuffing per pound of raw poultry. Aromatics such as celery, onions, apples, oranges, etc must be placed on or around the bird.

Outside the Bird (Dressing).  When the stuffing is cooked outside the turkey, it may be prepared ahead (refrigerated or frozen).  The temperature of the dressing and the turkey can be measured more reliably. The cavity can be filled loosely with aromatics which steam and infuse heighten flavor and some moisture into the turkey. The turkey will also cook faster.  Dressing is the only option for turkeys that are prepared by frying, smoking, grilling or spatchcocking.  Dressing is often criticized as being dry or not-as-moist as stuffing.  This can be remedied with turkey or chicken broth/stock drizzled over the dressing before baking. Dressing can also be prepared in a slow cooker which frees up the oven for the turkey or other foods and tends to be moister and more stuffing like. (NOTE: Never place frozen stuffing or other frozen food in a slow cooker.)  Another benefit of cooking the dressing separately is that larger quantities of it can be made.  And it is also an option to let the dressing become a bit crispy as it is an excellent complement to the savory and juicy turkey and creamy mashed potatoes.

For complete how-to for safely preparing and cooking stuffing or dressing, check out the USDA website, Stuffing and Food Safety.  For all questions related to turkey preparations, check out Let’s Talk Turkey.

Because stuffing is an excellent medium for bacterial growth, it’s important to handle it safely and cook it to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165ºF as measured with a food thermometer whether prepared inside or outside of the cavity. As you plan for your Thanksgiving dinner, make your decision on whether to stuff or not based on safe handling and preparation.

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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STOP! Don’t Wash the Turkey!

Wash your hands, but not the turkey! 

Many consumers think that washing their turkey will remove bacteria and make it safer.  However, it’s virtually impossible to wash bacteria off the bird. Instead, juices that splash during washing can transfer bacteria onto the surfaces of your kitchen, the sink, and other foods and utensils. This is called cross-contamination, which can make you and others very sick.  Washing your hands before and after handling the turkey and its packaging is crucial to avoid spreading harmful bacteria.

Hands should be washed with warm water and soap for 20 seconds.  This simple, but important step can help keep everyone safe from foodborne illness.  If your raw turkey or its juices come in contact with kitchen surfaces, wash the counter tops and sinks with hot, soapy water.  For extra protection, surfaces may be sanitized with a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water.  Make sure to let those areas dry thoroughly.

The only way to destroy bacteria on turkey or any poultry product is to cook it to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F as measured with a food thermometer.  Some chefs prefer to cook to a higher temperature for flavor and texture. Check the turkey’s temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing, and the thickest part of the breast to be sure it has reached a safe temperature will be free of illness-causing bacteria.

Source: Karlsons, Donna. (2017, February 21). To Wash or Not to Wash Your Turkey . . . . United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service.

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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Tips for Success with DIY Caramel Apples

There is no substitute for the thrill and challenge of eating a caramel apple—biting through the sweet, sticky caramel into a tart crisp apple while sweet, sticky juice runs down your chin.  Oh, the memories!

While the memories are sweet, the potential for a foodborne illness from caramel apples is real.  Caramel apples should either be eaten freshly made or refrigerated.  Once punctured with a stick, caramel apples can become a breeding ground for Listeria monocytogenes, a harmful bacteria, if left at room temperature for prolonged time. When the stick is inserted into the apple, a bit of apple juice tends to leak out and that moisture, trapped under the caramel layer, creates an environment that aids the growth of Listeria which is naturally present on the apple’s surface.   If caramel apples are purchased at the store, farmer’s market, carnivals, or even presented at a party, make sure that they have been refrigerated.

The best way to safely enjoy caramel apples is to make them fresh.   While DIY caramel apples may be intimidating, it really is quite easy and a fun family or party activity.  Recently I made caramel apples with my grandkids using freshly picked apples.  It was a successful, fun time using tips I gathered beforehand from various resources.

Tips to craft your very own caramel apples

Choose Apples.  Any apple variety will work as long as it is crisp.  Smaller apples give a better ratio of caramel to apple.  Apples should have a flat bottom so that they sit upright.

Do All Prep Work in Advance. Have apples and all needed equipment ready and at hand.  If you are going to decorate the apple with candy, nuts, sprinkles or anything else, make sure all is ready to go before you dip.

Remove Wax.  Wax must be removed from the surface of the apple skin to allow the caramel to adhere to the apple.  This can be done by dipping in boiling water for 3-5 seconds and wiping with a paper towel or scrubbing the apple with vinegar (white or apple cider) or lemon juice and baking soda. In addition to removing wax, vinegar also help remove pesticides and bacteria.  Another option is to wash the apple and lightly sand with fine sandpaper.  Whichever method is used, be sure not to puncture the skin.

Thoroughly Dry and Chill the Apples.  Any moisture on the skin will cause the caramel to bubble and stick poorly to the apple.  Chilling the apples for about 30 minutes will help the caramel set quicker and keep it from running off.

Insert Sticks. Use candy or popsicle sticks and insert them directly through the center (stem end) of the apple straight down about half to two-thirds way into the apple. Be sure to dab away any juice that may seep out when inserting the sticks. The presence of moisture will keep the caramel from adhering to the apple.

Use a Good Recipe.  Recipes can be as simple as two or three ingredients added to a bag of purchased wrapped caramels or a recipe made with all pantry ingredients from a trusted source.  Regardless, follow the recipe carefully.  If making from scratch, be sure to use a deep and thick saucepan with straight sides and a good candy thermometer.  For additional tips on making caramel, visit Success with Caramel.

Carefully Prepare Caramel. The temperature of the caramel is really important.  Whether making caramel from a recipe or melting caramels, you will want to cool the caramel to about 190 degrees before dipping. If you dip the apples as soon as the caramel is made, it will slide off or form a thin layer instead of a nice, thick caramel layer.  The caramel will be the right temperature to set up properly on the apple if you maintain your caramel temperature in the 180°-190° range, stirring sparingly to minimize air bubbles.  Some like to put the melted caramel mixture in a slow cooker on the low setting to maintain this temperature.  Caramel that gets too hot will lose the proper consistency, becoming too firm and crunchy to dip. 

Dip – Scoop, Twist, Drip, Flip. Set your apple in the caramel, scoop the caramel up onto the apple twisting the apple slowly with the stick while continuing to scoop the caramel onto the apple.  Raise the apple and let the excess drip off.  Scrape the bottom, flip the apple over and count to 20.  Set the apple on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and let cool.  If you get a caramel foot, fold it under the apple or cut it off.  Sliding the apples into the refrigerator after dipping will help set the caramel and prevent the caramel from sliding off. 

Decorate (if desired).  Roll, sprinkle or drizzle the caramel apples with any desired decorations once the caramel has cooled but is still tacky.  If the decorations will not stick, the caramel may have set up too quickly. By carefully holding the coated apple over a saucepan of boiling water, the steam will soften the caramel enough so the toppings will stick.  After decorating, return the apple to the parchment paper to continue cooling. Dipping the caramel coated apples in chocolate is another option.  Be creative.  Taste of Home has some fun ideas if you want to go beyond chopped peanuts and sprinkles.  Be careful not to overload the apples with too many toppings as the caramel may become too heavy and slide off. For gift giving, wrap the apples in a cellophane or plastic bag.

Enjoy and/or Store Safely.  To enjoy immediately, let the caramel set about 45 minutes. If the treats are not consumed right away, they should be refrigerated.  This will prolong freshness, slow oxidation, and slow the growth of bacteria.  If the apples are refrigerated, remove them from the fridge about 45 minutes before eating to allow the caramel to soften. The coated apples will keep 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

After creating our very own caramel apple personalized with assorted decorations or not, we could hardly wait for the caramel to set.  Needless to say, there was no need to refrigerate! 

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References: 

Allen, Lauren. (2020, October 10). How to Make Perfect Caramel Apples.  Taste Better from Scratch. https://tastesbetterfromscratch.com/caramel-apples/

Anita. (2014, October 10). 10 Tips for Perfect Caramel Apples.  Eat, Think, & Be Merry. http://eatthinkbemerry.com/2014/10/10-steps-perfect-caramel-apples/

Brazier, Yvette. (2015, October 17). Dangers of Listeria in Caramel Apples. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/301091

Geiger, M.R. (2021, October 26). Success with Caramel.  AnswerLine Blog. https://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/answerline/2021/10/26/success-with-caramel/

Glass, Kathleen A., Golden, Max C., Wanless, Brandon J., Bedale, Wendy, and Czuprynski, Charles. (2015, October 13). Growth of Listeria monocytogenes within a Caramel-Coated Apple Microenvironment.  ASM Journals, Vol. 6, No. 5.  https://journals.asm.org/doi/full/10.1128/mBio.01232-15 

Habermehl, Lauren. (2022, August 20). How to Make Traditional Caramel Apples.  Taste of Home.  https://www.tasteofhome.com/article/how-to-make-caramel-apples/

McKenny, Sally. (2019, October 1). Homemade Caramel Apples.  Sally’s Baking Addiction.  https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/homemade-caramel-apples/

Rachel. (2022, September 27). Tips for Perfect Homemade Caramel Apples.  Adventures of a DIY Mom.  https://www.adventuresofadiymom.com/2012/10/caramel-apples.html

Steed, Marcia.  (2016, September 29). Storing Caramel Apples.  AnswerLine Blog. https://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/answerline/2016/09/29/storing-caramel-apples/

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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Baby-Led Weaning

My son, Thomas, recently reached a milestone – he tired his 100th food at 10 months of age. You may wonder how this concept of introducing a baby to 100 foods came about. Early last November I was very pregnant, listening to Katie Ferraro, RD, speak at the Iowa Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics annual meeting on Baby-Led Weaning (BLW) and the first 100 foods approach. Her presentation solidified that this was the approach I wanted to take when feeding our baby. I will admit I was a bit intimated but was ready for the challenge.

What is BLW?

Weaning is the process of babies transitioning from milk/formula to food. In the traditional method of weaning parents either buy or make pureed foods (typically starting with baby cereal, and then fruits and vegetables) for their infant and spoon-feed them. Parents gradually transition their child from totally pureed foods to thicker purees, to chunky purees, and eventually solid food. BLW is the process of allowing babies to learn how to feed themselves as they transition from milk/formula to eating solid foods1. From the beginning, we have offered Thomas solid foods (non-pureed, whole) alongside some purees that he has feed to himself. Occasionally we will help load his spoon with food (pre-load), but he will bring the spoon to his mouth. In BLW, baby is offered the same foods as everyone else but with a texture that is modified to be soft enough for his/her developmental age2.

We enjoy having Thomas eat with us at mealtimes and that we can eat alongside him while he feeds himself, rather than one of us having to spoon feed him.

Why BLW?

My husband and I chose to do BLW with Thomas for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, it aligns closely with the Ellyn Satter principles on childhood feeding. In the Ellyn Satter approach, the role of the parent is to decide when and what nutritious food to provide, and the role of the child is to decide what and how much of that food they want to eat3. We let Thomas decide if he wanted to eat what we provided him and when he was full. This allowed him to practice honoring his hunger and fullness cues from day one of beginning solids. Introducing Thomas to 100 foods has exposed him to a wide variety of tastes and textures. When he becomes more selective (aka picky) and decides there are 10-15 foods he doesn’t like to eat, we still have 85-90 other foods to offer him. Some studies have shown BLW babies are less fussy and less picky eaters4. Thirdly, it allowed us to expose Thomas to allergenic foods; he successfully tried all the top allergens (egg, peanut, tree nut, cow’s milk, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat). Scientific evidence supporting the early introduction of top allergenic foods during infancy for the prevention of food allergies has grown. In fact, the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend offering top allergens early and often starting around 6 months of age (in conversation with the pediatrician if babies are at high risk for food allergies)5. For additional benefits and research on BLW, check out the article, Baby-Led Weaning: An Approach to Introducing Solid Foods to Infants from Utah State University Extension.

We started BLW with Thomas when he was six months old. The World Health Organization recommends babies be exclusively breastfed or formula fed until 6 months of age6. Once baby is 6 months old and is showing signs of readiness, complementary foods (foods offered in complement to breastmilk/formula) can start being offered.

Signs of readiness:

  • Baby can sit up unsupported7.
  • Baby can grasp food in hands and move it to mouth7.
  • Absence of tongue thrust 8.
  • Baby makes attempts at chewing, can move food to back of mouth and swallow.

How to Make BLW Work?

First, I did my homework. I read the book, Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide, to educate myself on BLW. The book taught me more about appropriate food sizes and textures (as well inappropriate foods) to offer, what to expect at different ages of baby, how to adapt food, easy first foods, introducing a cup, and much more. I then printed off a calendar for each month from May – November 2022. Each day of the week was assigned a different category (Monday – fruit, Tuesday – starch, Wednesday – protein, Thursday – vegetable, Friday – challenge). I then filled in the calendar days with foods from the 100 foods list and placed it on our refrigerator.

I used an app called Solid Starts to help determine appropriate sizes and textures of various foods to offer Thomas. There are many recipe ideas you can find online for BLW; I often referred to ideas from my friend, Kara, who is also a dietitian, at Kara Hoerr Nutrition.

We also found several tools to be very handy, including a crinkle cut knife (made items easier for Thomas to grab), hardboiled egg slicer, full coverage bib, washable mat to put under Thomas’ high chair to make clean-up easier, silicone plates that suction to the highchair, and an adjustable footrest to add to our highchair (ours didn’t come with one and it is important to have baby’s feet supported when eating as it helps them maintain good posture and core strength when eating). Living in rural Iowa, some food items (like peanut puffs) where hard to find. Shopping online helped us find products we weren’t able to locate in local stores. And finally, we explained the approach and solicited help from other who feed Thomas. This included our childcare provider and his grandparents.

Does BLW Increase Choking Risk?

A common misconception related to BLW is that this approach increases choking risk. However, studies show that when parents are educated on food sizing and texture, BLW does not increase the likelihood of choking9. Additional studies indicate that BLW babies are no more likely to choke than babies who are spoon fed10, 11, 12. To make sure I felt prepared for any situation, I took an online CPR/AED course through the American Red Cross. It reviewed a variety of topics, including choking for infants, children, and adults. I also posted CPR and choking information inside one of our kitchen cabinets so it can easily be accessed in the event of an emergency. The Utah State University Extension article offers the safety precautions listed below to help reduce the risk of choking.

How to prevent choking:

  • Ensure your baby is always sitting upright during feedings.
  • Make sure the food presented is in the proper shape, size, and texture for the baby.
  • Cut food into long strips they can grab in their fists.
  • Never leave your baby alone with food8.

Our BLW journey has been full of learning, fun, and messes (lots and lots of messes)! If you are thinking about this feeding approach for your baby, I would recommend you do your homework and don’t hesitate to ask questions! Make sure to contact us at AnswerLine if we can be of help.

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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. 

Resources:

  1. Rapley, G., & Murkett, T. (2010). Baby-Led Weaning (2nd ed.). New York, NY: The Experiment.
  2. Rapley, G. A. (2018). Baby-led weaning: Where are we now? Nutrition Bulletin, 43(3), 262–268. doi.org/10.1111/nbu.12338
  3. Satter, E. (2012). How to get your kid to eat: But not too much. Chicago, IL: Bull Publishing Company.
  4. Fu, X., Conlon, C. A., Haszard, J. J., Beck, K. L., von Hurst, P. R., Taylor, R. W., & Heath, A.-L. M. (2018). Food fussiness and early feeding characteristics of infants following Baby-Led Weaning and traditional spoon-feeding in New Zealand: An internet survey. Appetite, 130, 110–116. doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2018.07.033
  5. 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Retrieved September 21, 2022. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-12/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans_2020-2025.pdf.  
  6. World Health Organization. Infant and young child feeding. (2018, February 16). Retrieved September 21, 2022. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/infant-and-young-child-feeding.
  7. Rapley, G. (2015). Baby-led weaning: The theory and evidence behind the approach. Journal of Health Visiting, 3(3), 144–151. doi.org/10.12968/johv.2015.3.3.144
  8. Schilling, L., & Peterson, W. J. (2017). Born to eat: whole, healthy foods from baby’s first bite. New York, NY: Skyhorse Publishing.
  9. Brown, Amy E. “No Difference in Self-Reported Frequency of Choking Between Infants Introduced to Solid Foods Using a Baby-Led Weaning or Traditional Spoon-Feeding Approach.” Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics 31, no. 4 (December 2017): 496-504. Doi.org/10.1111/jhn.12528.
  10. Fangupo, L. J., Heath, A.-L. M., Williams, S. M., Williams, L. W. E., Morison, B. J., Fleming, E. A., … Taylor, R. W. (2016). A Baby-Led approach to eating solids and risk of choking. Pediatrics, 138(4), e20160772. doi.org/10.1542/peds.2016-0772
  11. Pesch, D. (2019). Introducing complementary foods in infancy. Contemporary Pediatrics, 36(1), 6.
  12. Rapley, G. (2011). Baby-led weaning: transitioning to solid foods at the baby’s own pace. Community Practitioner, 84(6), 5.

Rachel Sweeney

I graduated from Iowa State University with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Dietetics and Exercise Science. I enjoy gardening, cooking and baking, food preservation, traveling, being outside, and spending time with my family.

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Can’t Beat Beets and Beet Chips

Beets are packed with nutrients and heart-healthy antioxidants, making them a great addition to any diet. Aside from being totally delicious and beautiful on a plate, beets are low in calories and really good for you.  They lower blood pressure, boost stamina, fight inflammation, are rich in fiber, support detoxification, contain anti-cancer causing properties, and so much more.

There are any number of delicious ways to prepare and serve beets for every day eating—vegetable side dish, soup, pickles, relish, salad, cake, hummus. . . . .  Beets also are easy to preserve by freezing, pickling, canning, or drying when one has an abundance of these root vegetables.  Michigan State University Extension and Penn State Extension have excellent information on selecting, storing, and preserving beets.   Tested recipes for beets can also be found at the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

For a shorter preservation time, you might want to give beet chips a try.  Beet chips are a tasty and healthy alternative to potato chips and other junk food. They store well and are a good way to deal with the munchies when those evil urges strike.  They are easy to make in the oven or air fryer, have no “bad” fats, no preservatives, and you control the salt and seasoning.  Any color of beet may be used.  Beet chips are made from finely sliced beets, tossed in oil (olive, avocado, or coconut) and optional salt and seasoning, and then roasted in the oven or air fryer.  Beet chips store well for at least 2 weeks in an airtight container—that is if they last that long!  They can be made in any quantity desired.

Begin by washing beets thoroughly under cool running water.  Remove the tops to within 2-inches of the beet.  Trim off the tail.  Peeling is optional. 

Oven Baked Beet Chips

Beet chips can simply be made by slicing the beets very thin (1/16-in) using a mandolin if possible, tossing with a small amount of oil, seasoning as desired, arranging in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and baking in the oven until dry and crisp.  This recipe from University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources would be one example of how to make beet chips by this method.

Another way to make oven baked beet chips is to sweat (rest beets in salt and oil for a short time) the beets prior to baking.  This is the method I like best.  A brief sweating allows the beets to release some of their moisture before baking which makes all the difference in size, color, and texture of the beet chips.  After draining the beets, I also lightly pat the beets with a paper two to remove excess moisture before placing on the parchment-lined baking sheet to shorten the drying time.  Carnegie Mellon University provides this recipe. This recipe is easily made with a smaller quantity of beets as well.

Air Fryer Method

Prepare the beets as for oven baking.  Set the air fryer to 330°.  Arrange the slices in a single layer and air fry 15 – 20 minutes until crispy.  Time will vary depending on the thickness of the chips, air fryer, and moisture in the beets.

Give beets a try in whatever way you enjoy them. Beet chips are a great lunchtime side and snack option.

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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Preserving Summer Squash

One zucchini, two zucchini, three zucchini . . . . four . . .

Summer squash is now in plentiful supply.  When a plant begins to produce, it often produces an overwhelming amount of produce.  While there are several varieties of summer squash, zucchini is the one we hear about the most.  And perhaps the one we have the most ‘fun’ with when surprise care packages show up on co-workers’ desk or neighbor’s doorstep. Before giving all away, consider saving a few for off-season use by preserving.

Summer squash is at its very best when it is eight inches or less in length and an inch or two wide (about two to three days of growth) or, in the case of odd-shapes, picked right when the flower falls off. When picked and eaten at this size, the inside texture is consistent throughout the fruit, never pithy, and the seeds aren’t yet developed. The skin is incredibly tender, and the flavor is mild and sweet–sweet because the plant creates sugars as energy to make seeds; when picked before the seeds develop, those sugars are still present in the flesh. If left on the vine longer, the skin begins to toughen and quality decreases. When cooked the tender squash create uniform, never mushy or stringy, delicious additions to soups, kebabs, sauces, salads, and stir-fries. And, yes, they make a fine zucchini bread or zucchini cake, too.

Fresh squash should be washed in cold water to remove all visible signs of soil before using or storing. Handle carefully as summer squash bruise easily. Store fresh squash in the refrigerator crisper in plastic storage bags or rigid containers to retain moisture. Stored in this manner, squash will maintain quality for 5-7 days. 

So while we know how to use them fresh, what about preserving them?

The USDA does not recommend canning summer squash or zucchini alone.  Rather the recommendation is to preserve by freezing, pickling, or drying.  An adequate processing times has not been established for a safe product.  Squash are low-acid vegetables requiring pressure canning to destroy the bacteria that cause botulism. The heat required to can squash results in the squash flesh turning mushy and sinking to the bottom of the canning jar. The compacted flesh does not heat evenly.  Zucchini may only be canned when paired with tomatoes using a tested recipe from The National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP):  https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_03/tomato_okra_zucchini.html OR paired with pineapple juice, sugar, and lemon juice using a recipe also from the NCHFP, https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_02/zucchini_pineapple.html. Zucchini Pineapple maybe used in salads, desserts, or other recipes calling for crushed or chunk pineapple.

FREEZING

There are three different ways to successfully freeze summer squash./zucchini.  Begin by choosing young squash with tender skin and washing.  There is no need to peel but squash must be blanched before freezing.  Blanching slows or stops the enzyme action which can cause loss of flavor, color and texture.  Blanching also cleanses the surface of dirt and organisms, brightens the color, helps retard loss of vitamins and wilts or softens vegetables making them easier to pack. Blanching may be done in boiling water or steam.

  1. Slices – Slice ¼ – ½-inch thick.  Blanch in boiling water for 3 minutes on in steam for 4 1/2 minutes; cool in ice water for at least 3 minutes.  Drain well and package.  If packaged in freezer containers, leave ½-inch of headspace.  Slices may also be flash frozen using the tray method and packaged.
  2. Preparation for Frying – Follow instructions for blanching.  Before packaging, dredge in flour or cornmeal.  Flash freeze using the tray method and package.
  3. Grated for Baking – While some grate, package, and freeze squash for future baking, it is recommended to steam blanch squash for best quality.  Steam blanch small quantities of grated squash 1 to 2 minutes (until translucent) followed by packing measured amounts into containers.  Cool containers in ice water, seal and freeze.  When ready to use, thaw containers of frozen squash in the refrigerator prior to use. If the squash is watery when thawed, discard the liquid before using in baked goods.

Varieties for freezing include cocozelle, crookneck, pattypan, straightneck, white scallop and zucchini.  Chayote is also regarded as a summer squash but requires slightly different preparation for blanching.  Chayote is diced and seeded before blanching for 2 minutes. 

Remember to label and date packages. Properly packaged and frozen, squash should maintain high quality for approximately 10 months in the freezer.  Vacuum packaging can extend the shelf life of frozen squash but cannot be used as a food preservation method alone. Flash freeze squash slices before packaging, package frozen squash and return frozen squash to the freezer. Vacuum packaged frozen squash will have a longer shelf life than frozen squash which is not vacuum packaged.

PICKLING

Follow a tested recipe for pickling summer squash. Summer squash, zucchini, or chayote work well for pickling.  Two approved and very good tasting recipes can be found at the National Center for Home Food Preservation:

Summer Squash Relishhttps://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_06/summer_squash_relish.html

Notes:  Squash may be diced or shredded by hand instead of shredding with a food processor.  Any variety of onion is acceptable.  Celery salt may be used in place of celery seed for a taste preference.  Relish can be enjoyed freshly made without processing.  Fresh or opened jars of relish should be refrigerated. [Preserving Food at Home Resource Guide, PennState Extension, p.104] For best quality and safety, consume refrigerated pickled squash within 7 days.

Pickled Bread-and-Butter Zucchini:  https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_06/bread_butter_zucchini.html

DRYING

Varieties that work well for drying include zucchini and yellow summer squash.  Wash and trim ends from the squash and cut squash into ¼-inch slices.  Steam blanching slices for 2 ½ -3 minutes or water blanch for 1 ½ minutes is recommended for best quality.  Utah State University Extension suggests adding 1 teaspoon/gallon citric acid to the blanching water to reduce darkening during the drying process.  Drain the slices and arrange them in a single layer on a dehydrator tray. Dry in a food dehydrator at 135-140⁰F for 10-12 hours or until slices are leathery crisp and brittle.  Store the dried pieces in airtight containers (glass jars or in moisture and vapor-proof freezer containers, boxes or bags) in a cool, dry, dark place for up to 12 months. Vacuum packaging dried squash is also an option as it will resist moisture better and extend the shelf life.

Ten pounds of fresh squash will dry to approximately ¾ pound. Dried squash can be used in soups or stews or processed in a food chopper and used in breads or baked goods.

Regardless of how summer squash is preserved or used fresh, it is nutritious. One cup sliced (100 g), fresh summer squash has approximately 18 calories, 1 g fiber, and 1 g protein. Squash is an excellent source of vitamin C. Cooked squash will have essentially the same calories, fiber and protein, but will lose approximately 75% of the Vitamin C during the cooking process (http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/Data/index.html).

To learn more about the many uses for summer squash, check out: Summer Squash Is a Versatile Vegetable in Iowa Gardens.

References

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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Meat Thermometers – A Grilling Essential

Steaks on the grill with thermometer to check internal temperature.

Grilling adds a fun element to picnics and summer but it can also be a time of danger for food borne illness. It is not possible to tell if a food is fully cooked by simply looking at it. The only way to accurately measure if a food product is cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature is to use a food thermometer.  This is especially true when grilling meats; meat and poultry tend to brown quickly on the outside but may not have reached a safe internal temperature to prevent harmful bacteria from causing foodborne illness.

Know the Safe Internal Temperature

To insure cooking is both SAFE and GOOD TASTING, follow the guidelines below for safe minimum internal temperatures and rest time for meat, poultry, and seafood.

Date last reviewed: March 11, 2022. Source: FoodSafety.gov

Calibrate Thermometer for Accuracy

A properly calibrated meat thermometer is key for achieving both meat safety and quality. Imagine the indignation of serving undercooked meat followed by food borne illness because the thermometer didn’t read correctly or wasn’t in calibration.  Neither is a viable excuse for a food safety misstep.  Thermometers should be checked and adjusted on a regular basis using the ice-water method.  For a video demonstration of thermometer calibration, view How to Calibrate a Meat Thermometer courtesy of the North American Meat Institute and University of California Davis Cooperative Extension. 

Insert Thermometer Properly

To get a correct temperature reading, the thermometer must be inserted in the properly location.  Usually, this in the center of the thickest part of the food away from bone, fat, or gristle.  Use these guidelines on finding the right location: 

BEEF, PORK or LAMB ROASTS. The food thermometer should be placed midway in the roast, avoiding the bone. Irregularly shaped foods, such as beef roasts, should have their temperature checked in several places.

THINNER FOODS such as MEAT PATTIES, PORK CHOPS and CHICKEN.  The USDA encourages the use of digital instant-read thermometers for thinner foods as digital thermometers don’t need to be inserted as deep as dial thermometers and may be inserted sideways in the thickest part.    

Regardless of thermometer type, manufacturer’s instructions should be followed regarding depth of insertion to give an accurate reading.  If instructions are not available, check the stem of the thermometer for an indentation or “dimple” that shows the end of the sensing device. The probe must be inserted the full length of the sensing area. For dial thermometers, this is usually 2 to 3 inches and less for digital instant-read thermometers where the heat sensing device is in the tip of the probe.  About 15 to 20 seconds are required for the temperature to be accurately displayed with a dial thermometer and about 10 seconds is needed for a digital thermometer.

Additional Thermometer Tips

  • Use a clean thermometer for testing each time it is inserted into the food.  Follow manufacturer’s directions for washing before and after each use.
  • To prevent overcooking, begin checking the temperature toward the end of cooking but before the food is expected to be “done.”
  • Wait until toward the end of the cooking period before inserting a thermometer to prevent the possibility of transferring possible bacteria from the outside to the inside.  This will also help to prevent loss of moisture.

Use that food thermometer and grill safely!

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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Induction Cooking – What You Need to Know

If you’re buying a new range or cooktop, you might be deciding between electric or induction. Induction cooking is currently one of the top choices. It has risen to popularity because of how fast food cooks through the induction method. While both use electricity to cook food and produce the same outcome, the way they get there is quite different. Both are great options, but it’s important to understand the differences between them and which will be the best fit for your cooking needs.

Standard electric cooking sends electric current to open coils or radiant burner elements below the glass or ceramic surface to transfer heat to cooking vessels (pots or pans)  and then to the food inside. This process is known as thermal conduction. It takes time for the burner to heat and transfer heat to the vessel as well as to cool down due to the residual heat that the burners hold; after reducing the temperature, burners take a few minutes to settle to a lower setting and remain hot after burners are turned off.

An induction cooktop or range looks similar to a glass-top electric counterpart but is powered by an electromagnetic field below the surface of the glass cooktop. Instead of passing heat along from surface to cookware to food, induction cooktops heat the cookware directly resulting in even cooking and less loss of energy. The magnetic field reacts with the cookware (which must contain ferrous iron) and transfers heat and energy directly into the cooking vessel. Only the pan, and what’s directly under it, on an induction range gets hot. The surface around it stays cool.  

WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF INDUCTION COOKING?

  • Cooking is faster.  In general, an induction range or cooktop is 2-4 minutes faster than gas or electric at bringing 6 quarts of water to a boil.
  • Excellent temperature control. Allows for precise temperature adjustments and reduces the chance of burning food.  When you turn the burner off, heat transfer stops immediately, so there’s less of a chance of foods boiling over or overcooking.
  • Easy clean up. Spatters or spills outside of the pan will not bake onto the cooking surface.  There are no burners to take apart and reassemble.
  • More energy efficient. An induction model uses 10% less energy than a smooth-top electric range.
  • Safe.   There is no emission of gas into the air. Cloth objects will not catch on fire because no element is exposed and heat only transfers to items with iron particles in it. Induction units also turn off when the cookware is removed from the heating element so there’s little risk of accidentally leaving it on when cooking is done. Burners accidentally turned on will not get hot.  Fire hazards and risk of burns is reduced.

Electrical appliances such as an induction unit create Non-Ionizing or Low-Frequency EMF. According to the National Cancer Institute there are no current studies that have been able to provide a link that Non-Ionizing radiation causes any adverse health issues such as cancer. In fact the natural radiation emitted from the sun is far more harmful than induction unit could ever be.[1]

The American Heart Association has also deemed the low electromagnetic field safe for patients with pacemakers or medical implants.

  • Reduces kitchen heat and ventilation requirements.

WHAT ARE THE DISADVANTAGES OF INDUCTION COOKING?

  • Cost.  Induction surfaces are an investment since the technology is relatively new.  However, as induction becomes more mainstream, the cost is decreasing.
  • Require cookware containing ferrous iron.  Specifically, that means stainless steel, cast iron, and carbon steel. Pots and pans made from aluminum and copper aren’t compatible. Most confusing of all, some cookware uses a combination of materials in its construction, so its induction status isn’t always obvious. Look for pots and pans marked “induction safe” or “induction compatible.” An easy test to see if cookware is compatible is to see if a magnet strongly sticks to the bottom of the pan.  If a magnet sticks to the bottom, it can be used with induction. 
  • Caution – Cooktops can get hot.   Heat is transferred from the cooking vessel to the glass through conduction, much as a hot pan would transfer heat to a countertop if you set it down to rest.  The glass surface never gets as hot as it would on a traditional radiant electric range but one can never assume that it will be cool to the touch.
  • Unfamiliar sounds.  Some consumers report a buzz or hum on the higher settings resulting from the high energy transferring from the coil to the pan.  There is also the possibility of hearing the element clicking or the fan cooling the electronics. All are common and resolve by turning down the heat or adding food to the pot or pan,, Consumer Reports says that heavy, flat-bottomed pans help reduce the vibrations that cause the buzz.
  • Magnetic field can interfere with digital thermometers.  Consumer Reports suggests the need to resort to an analog thermometer—an old-fashioned solution to a modern problem.
  • Requires a learning curve. Induction cooking takes some getting used to.  Some nuances include: placing the right sized cookware in the center of the heating element in order for it to be properly activated; cookware must be flat-bottomed; the heating element may cut off prematurely or shut off without warning when the pan is shaken or moved; food may overcook until one learns that cookware doesn’t take long to preheat and a lower heat setting is needed to maintain the temperature of food.  Touch pad controls also take time to get used to.
  • Cooktops scratch easily.  Although induction cooktops are made of a durable glass-ceramic composite, they are more prone to scratching if scratchy pans are slid across the surface and even cracking if a heavy pot is set down too hard. Most manufacturers suggest using cookware with clean, smooth bottoms, and to avoid sliding pots and pans across the surface. Sharp tools or abrasive cleaning materials should not be used on the surface.
  • Repairs may be expensive after the warranty period. 
  • A 240V outlet is required.  An induction range or cooktop easily replaces an electric range or cooktop.   If the conversion is from gas, an electrician will need to install the proper wiring. 
  • Requires canners (pressure and water) specifically made for induction cooktops.  Both are available.

While induction cooking is one of the most efficient, safest and precise ways to prepare food, the question remains, is it for you?

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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Freezing Yeast Dough

The frozen yeast dough products available at the supermarket are a nice convenience.  But, did you know that yeast dough can also be prepared at home and frozen to nearly duplicate the convenience of a ready-to-use product?

Fleishmann’s Yeast introduced home bakers to freezing yeast dough in their 1972 publication, Fleishmann’s Bake-it-easy Yeast Book.  Included in the book were the very first recipes for frozen dough one could make at home, freeze, and bake later.  The recipes introduced were specifically developed for freezing and to this day, they remain the standards for freezing yeast doughs.

It should be noted that freezing dough at home may not yield the same results as commercially frozen dough but is still a means to delicious, freshly baked bread when time is short. Frozen dough manufacturers have access to superior dough stabilizers and freezing equipment that freeze the dough very quickly, allowing doughs to freeze with minimal damage to the yeast and dough structure. Dough freezes slower in home freezers increasing the risk of damage to the yeast and dough structure.

Tips for Preparing Yeast Dough for the Freezer  

  • According to Fleishmann’s Yeast, only yeast dough recipes specially developed for freezing should be used for best results. Freezer dough recipes usually call for more yeast and sugar and less salt and fat. The most success is achieved with roll or pizza dough.  The method of preparation is not limited; dough can be made by hand mixing and kneading, mixer, food processor, or bread machine.
  • Original freezer-dough recipes used all-purpose flour.  Today, it is recommended to replace all-purpose flour with bread flour as it helps to maintain better structure.   
  • Active dry yeast should be used instead of fast-acting yeast. Fast-acting yeast is not ideal for recipes that require a long rising time.  King Arthur Baking suggests making the dough with cool, not lukewarm liquid (water or milk) to keep the yeast as dormant as possible so that it is less vulnerable to damage during the freezing process.
  • To compensate for the yeast that will inevitably die in the freezing process, King Arthur Baking suggests increasing the yeast by ¼ to ½ teaspoon per 3 cups (360 grams) of flour.
  • Dough may be frozen at two junctures: 1) after kneading and before the first rise (proofing) OR 2) after the first or second rise.  American Test Kitchen tested both junctures and found “freezing the dough between the first and second proofs was the best strategy. The first proof ensured that enough yeast had fermented for the dough to develop complex flavors and for some gluten development for better baked size. The remaining viable yeast cells then finished the job as the dough thawed and proofed for the second time.” 
  • Form the dough into balls for rolls or flatten the dough into a disk about 1 inch thick for pizza crust or dough to be shaped later. French bread, loaves of bread, braids, and cinnamon rolls can be shaped prior to freezing; loaves should be frozen in greased loaf pans and cinnamon roll slices placed on their sides on a lined baking sheet. Tightly wrap the dough with plastic wrap.
  • Flash freeze the dough in the freezer for 1-2 hours. Dough should be covered during flash freezing, thawing, and rising prior to baking to prevent the dough from developing a dry crust.
  • When the dough pieces have formed a hard shell around the outside, transfer to a zipper freezer bag or air-tight freezer container.  Return the dough to the freezer.  Dough may be frozen up to 1 month. For best results, use dough sooner rather than later.

When ready to use, remove needed dough balls, loaves, rolls, or disks from the freezer and allow to thaw covered in the refrigerator, a warm location, or combination until doubled in size. Do not over proof.  Since the yeast and bread structure have been compromised during freezing, over proofing may cause the dough to collapse on itself.

Previously formed dough can be thawed in a greased baking pan until double. Disks should be allowed to thaw and then rolled or shaped (pizza crust or any shape or specialty desired), placed in a greased baking dish, and allowed to rise until doubled. (Rolled dough for pizza crust does not need time to double unless desired.)  When dough has reached the desired size, bake as directed.

Thawing and rising times vary according to the temperature of the dough, the size of the dough pieces, and where thawing takes place.  Use these times as a guideline for thawing [1]:
Refrigerator: 8-16 hours
Countertop:  4-9 hours
Warm location:  2-4 hours
Dough balls for dinner rolls take about 1½ -2 hours to thaw and double before baking in a warm location.  Loaves of bread may take 4-6 hours at room temperature.

Recipes for freezer dough can be found on the Fleishmann’s website. Some examples include: pizza dough, bread dough, and dinner rolls.   If one is so lucky to have a copy of Fleishmann’s Bake-it-easy Yeast Book, 1972, a variety of yeast doughs developed for freezing can be found therein.

Fresh-baked bread is always more delicious than reheated. If you plan ahead, you can freeze yeast dough to save time provided you remember to pull it from the freezer in time—that’s the hardest part! 


_________________________________
References: 

Almost Pop ‘n’ Serve Dough, Cook’s Illustrated. https://www.cooksillustrated.com/how_tos/6065-almost-pop-n-serve-dough

Can Dough Be Stored in the Refrigerator or Freezer?, Fleishmann’s Yeast. https://www.fleischmannsyeast.com/frequently-asked-questions/

Fleishmann’s Bake-it-easy Yeast Book, 4/1972.

Fleishmann’s Yeast Best-Ever Breads, Specialty Brands, 1993

Hamel, PJ. (2015, October 5). Freeze and Bake Rolls. King Arthur Baking Company®. https://www.kingarthurbaking.com/blog/2015/10/05/freeze-bake-rolls?fbclid=IwAR0jISWL4_1eJ2NQGIcbzuuEQCWdLM-T-1RbVw6STyJidhNYJStLeAK2tSI&utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=content&sf172188106=1

Kneaded Notes:  Holiday Baking Guide, Red Star® Yeast. https://redstaryeast.com/blog/holiday-baking-guide/

Nicholson, Annabelle. (2021, July 6). Can I Freeze My Yeast Dough?, King Arthur Baking Company®. https://www.kingarthurbaking.com/blog/2021/07/06/freeze-yeast-dough-make-ahead-bread

Woodward, Peggy. (2020, May 7). How to Freeze Yeast Dough. Taste of Home. https://www.tasteofhome.com/article/freezing-yeast-dough/

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.

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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Let’s Go Maple Syruping!

When you think of Iowa, maple syrup probably isn’t the first thing to come to mind. However, maple syrup is one of the state’s oldest agricultural crops dating back to pioneer times.  Native Americans were the first to tap Iowa’s maple trees followed by early pioneers who also tapped maple trees for their annual supply of sweetener. 

Today, Iowa has a small number of commercial producers mostly located in the northeastern part of the state and several small commercial or home-use only producers scattered across the state. According to the USDA 2017 Agricultural Census, Iowa reported 53 farms with 13,808 taps.[1] Producers use a variety of methods to collect and boil sap into syrup.  However, the methods are much the same today as used by our ancestors.  Small holes are drilled into the tree trunks (taps), sap drips into buckets or tubes below, and evaporators boil the clear sap into delicious maple syrup.  The color of maple syrup varies depending upon when it was tapped.  Late winter tapings yield a light brown syrup with color deepening as spring advances.  Color is not an indicator of quality; maple syrup is graded by color with color affecting flavor.  Grade A syrup is a light amber color, while Grade B is darker and thicker. Grade A is mild in flavor with Grade B syrups having a deeper, more robust maple flavor. 

On the average, it takes 40 gallons of maple sap to make 1 gallon of pure maple syrup.  A tree will produce 10-20 gallons of sap per tap on the average.  A tree may have more than one tap depending upon its size/circumference.

While maple syrup is a sweetener, the nutritional benefits of maple syrup are numerous.  One tablespoon of maple syrup contains 50 calories along with the following vitamins and minerals:

  • 20 milligrams of calcium
  • 2 milligrams of phosphorous
  • 0.2 milligrams of iron
  • 2 milligrams of sodium
  • 5 milligrams of potassium [2]

Maple syrup can be used as an alternative to sugar in cooking and baking in a 1:1 ratio. When used in baking, decrease the liquid by 3 to 4 tablespoons per 1 cup substitution.  If no liquid is called for in the recipe, add about 1 tablespoon of additional flour for every ¼ cup of maple syrup.  [3]

Iowa’s maple syrup season generally begins in late February or early March and runs 4 to 6 as six weeks. Warm daytime temperatures and cold nights are needed for the sap to flow; the season ends when the trees begin to bud. If you are looking for some early-spring family fun, a number of groups have planned events and demonstrations across the state to allow nature lovers of all ages to take part in this unique agricultural activity. Below is a listing of a few.  Registration and fees may be required and pancakes and maple syrup might be included with some events.

Botna Bend Park, Hancock, March 5, 2022

Hartman Reserve Nature Center, Cedar Falls, March 11-13, 2022

Mahaska County Environmental Learning Center, Oskaloosa, March 8, 2022

Indian Creek Nature Center, Cedar Rapids, March 26-27, 2022

Sharon Bluffs State Park, Centerville, February 24, 2022

Events are also planned in Minnesota.  For a complete listing, check out the Minnesota DNR website.

Resources:

1 United States Department of Agriculature, National Agricultural Statistics Service, Iowa, Table 40. Woodland Crops Sales: 2017 and 2012.

2 Neff, Michelle, Maple Syrup Nutritional Facts, Michigan State University, MSU Extension

3 Ameden, Kye, Baking with Liquid Sweeteners, King Arthur Baking, 2017

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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