Donuts, an Old Food Made New

Perhaps you’ve noticed that doughnuts or donuts have taken a new prominence in the culinary world. They have become the new party food being proudly displayed for the picking on peg boards at graduation parties, replacing cake at wedding receptions, the new “cupcake” at birthday parties, and the most requested birthday breakfast treat. Further, there is the opening of new generation donut shops across American featuring contemporary takes on the standard donut with creative flavors, fresh-made on the spot varieties, limited editions, and other creations that deny all healthy eating. At many of these shops, people wait in long lines to get their treats at elevated prices.

Recently, I was one of those standing in a long line to try one of these new pleasures. In June, we traveled to California for my son-in-law’s PhD hooding. We kicked off graduation day with a trip to a nearby gourmet donut shop for coffee and their special creations. As we stood in line, the baristas brought samples of the donuts they were making that morning so that when we got to the counter we could quickly order. We each picked a different flavor and after getting our treats, we went to a nearby park to share and eat. Our choices include strawberry buttermilk, maple bacon, huckleberry, cookie dough, and chocolate (spelled choc-a-lot). It was my first donut in many years and each was definitely unique and very good.

Like other contemporary “doughnuteries”, this shop boasts donuts made hourly from scratch in small batches, using only the finest real ingredients, no preservatives, use of seasonal products, infused glazes and hand crushed toppings to insure a fresh and warm treat for each and every customer. They feature daily and monthly specials as well as regular offerings all created from their own recipes. At other shops one might find donut ice cream sandwiches or donut burgers. The creation list of flavors and uses is endless.

While donuts seem to be trendy now, they have always been a popular food. They have been around for hundreds of years and there is no definitive answer to the donut’s origin. There are, however, events in history that give background to the development of the donut as we know it today.

Dutch immigrants brought the tradition of making olykoeks (oil cakes) with them when they came to North American. Olykoeks were yeast-raised dough balls boiled in lard (pork fat) until golden brown. However, often the centers remained undone and gooey. To remedy that uncooked center, cooks began pushing nuts into the center of the dough balls to assure more even cooking; while this was better than just the solid dough ball, it was not the perfect solution. In 1847, Hansen Gregory, an American ship captain, experimented with a different method. He used a punch to make a hole through the center of the dough ball and discovered that a hole eliminated the uncooked center completely. Thus Captain Gregory is given credit for inventing the traditional ring shape that we know as a donut today.

There is also the question, cake or raised, when it comes to donuts.  Apparently, you are either a cake or yeast donut person.  A yeast donut is made from a yeast dough and is often referred to as a raised donut.  It’s puffy and light and typically is glazed, sugared, or frosted.  Cake donuts rely on baking soda or baking powder to raise and are often denser and sweeter.  Cake donuts can come in all kinds of flavors.

Lastly, there is still the question of whether it should be doughnut or donut. Wikipedia attributes the doughnut spelling to British English and the donut spelling to American English. Historians tell us that in 1809, the word “doughnut” appeared in print for the first time in a publication, A History of New York, by Washington Irving. Sometime during the 1900s, the word was shortened to “donut.” Today, either spelling is acceptable.

In whatever way the donut came to be, how we spell it, or if it is cake or raised, one thing is for sure—Americans and people around the world love donuts in many fashions. My favorite is still the standard, raised and glazed donut.

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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Buttermilk Substitutions

We had a caller last week requesting a substitute for buttermilk. She was getting ready to bake muffins and because the recipe called for so little buttermilk and she didn’t have any on hand was wondering what she could use in place of it.

We get quite a number of callers asking about substitutions. We have several good resources available with suggestions so please call or e-mail us if you ever have a question about what to substitute for an ingredient you do not have on hand at home.

Today I’m going to focus on buttermilk since that was my most recent question. Nothing can match the pure taste of buttermilk exactly. It adds a tangy flavor and increases the leavening power when interacting with baking soda. “Clabbered” milk is the most widely used substitute for buttermilk. “Clabbered” means soured and thickened. The most common way to clabber milk is to add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to one cup of milk. The lemon juice acidifies the milk allowing the leavening in the batter to do its job. If you don’t have lemon juice on hand, many people substitute vinegar which accomplishes the same thing. You would use 1 tablespoon of vinegar to one cup of milk.

Some people do not like the hint of lemon that is in products with that substitute used. If that is you, you may want to experiment with cream of tartar or watered-down sour cream or yogurt. When using cream of tartar, whisk 1 and 1/2 to 1 and 3/4 teaspoon into your dry ingredients. If you add the cream of tartar directly to the milk it will clump.

When using watered-down sour cream, use equal parts sour cream and water. If using regular plain, unsweetened yogurt use approximately 1/4 cup liquid to 1 and 3/4 cup yogurt to make two cups. If using Greek yogurt mix one small container with 1 and 1/3 cups skim or 1% milk to make 2 cups of substitute for buttermilk.

If your baked goods recipe does not call for much buttermilk any of these substitutions will work. If you are making something like salad dressing and buttermilk is the main ingredient you will want to make sure you use actual buttermilk. If you do buy buttermilk and only use a small amount of it you can successfully freeze it. After thawing in the refrigerator it may have separated a little bit but just give it a stir and it will be fine to use.

We don’t always get responses after we give out information from our office but in the case of this caller she did let us know that she used a substitute and thought the flavor was not affected but the batter seemed a little thinner which caused the finished product to be a little flatter and that made them more difficult to remove from the pan. She will make a note on the recipe that buttermilk is preferred.

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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Pacific Salmon

NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Fisheries has proclaimed 2019 as the International Year of the Salmon. They are working to “protect salmon by bringing countries together to share knowledge, raise public awareness and take action”. I recently returned from a trip to Alaska where I was able to visit a salmon hatchery. It is such an interesting process and I enjoyed learning more about the Pacific salmon. They are a migratory species. Born in fresh water, they migrate to the ocean for their adult lives then return to fresh water to reproduce.

Salmon is an oily fish that provides protein, essential vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids. The American Heart Association recommends eating two servings of fatty fish per week. Salmon fits perfectly into that recommendation.

There are five main species of Pacific salmon along the west coast of North America:

Chum (KETA): their large size and mild flavor make them great for smoking or salmon patties

Sockeye (Red): considered the premium of all salmon due to its rich flavor and firm red meat

King (Chinook): best choice for the BBQ due to its strong flavor and thicker fillets; Chinook are the largest but least abundant species

Silver (Coho): always a great choice with a milder flavor and price to match

Pink (Humpy): smallest and most abundant species; known for a softer texture and mild flavor; perfect for dips and spreads

To better remember the five species I was taught to use my fingers and thumb: Chum – rhymes with thumb; Sockeye – it’s #1; King – the biggest; Silver – for your ring finger; and Pink – for your pinky. Quite clever!

Spend Smart Eat Smart had a recent blog post on Safe Seafood and Broiled Salmon was their Recipe of the Month for April 2019.

Here are a couple recipes for you to try using canned salmon from the USDA: Salmon Patties and a Salmon Casserole.

I know salmon is plentiful in our grocery stores but I had fun bringing some home in my suitcase to try with new recipes!


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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Summer Baking with Kids

Summer is nearly upon us and many of us will be looking for fun things to do with the children in our lives. One thing I love to do with my grandchildren is bake. I recently attended a cookie decorating class in hopes of picking up a few tips about some new techniques or products to use. The cookies we used were homemade (which are always fun to do with children) but if you find you don’t have enough time to do everything, using refrigerated cookie dough works just fine. There is a wide range of cookie cutters available on the market today for most any interest your children would have. If you can’t find exactly what you are looking for, trace a pattern and make your own!


Once your cookies have baked and cooled, frost with your favorite sugar cookie icing. Buttercream and Royal frostings are always popular. Experiment with making different colors of frosting using gel or powdered coloring. Put the prepared frostings in a baggie, cut one corner of the baggie diagonally and let the children use their creative skills to add frosting to the cookies.

The class I attended introduced me to Sprinkle Pop which is one of many brands of sprinkle type toppings available on the market in many different forms. Some of the varieties include sanding sugar which is translucent and quite fine and delicate; crystal sugar is also translucent but has larger, coarser crystals; nonpareils are round; quins come in many different shapes; edible glitter; and dragees which have a hard outer shell. It is important to be a good label reader when purchasing decorations for your cookies to make sure they are all edible. Some decorations will be labeled for use as decoration only and should not be consumed. They should be removed before serving the cookies. The FDA advises to avoid the use of non-edible food decorative products.


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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Cupcakes made by Beth Marrs

One of my favorite hobbies is baking. Now that I am an “empty nester”, there is a limit on how often and what sort of foods I can bake. Baking bread every week helps satisfy that need to bake but I also love reading about cooking and baking. Yesterday I read an interesting blog on the King Arthur Flour website. The blog had directions for making cupcakes out of your favorite cake recipe. This blog included some information that I had not heard before so I thought that it would be fun to share that information.

Most cake recipes will make great cupcakes. I had never thought of making angel food cupcakes or chiffon cake cupcakes and apparently, they do not make great cupcakes. I think with the difficulty of making those cakes, you would be happier with the full sized version.

It has been a while since I have needed to make cupcakes so I had not realized the variety of cupcake pans available. When the kids were home, I think that the mini cupcakes would have disappeared too quickly. Making jumbo cupcakes might have made the kids happy but would not have made enough cupcakes for everyone to have more than one.

It does not matter what size pan you choose, you will want to fill the wells in the pans most of the way full. King Arthur Flour says to fill them about 4/5 full. I did not know that the baking temperature affects the shape of the top of the cupcake. Using a lower temperature like 325° (but a slightly longer baking time) will yield a flatter topped cupcake. Sometimes this is desirable depending on how you want to decorate the cupcake. Baking at a lower temperature will also allow the outer rim of the cupcake to brown a bit. If you want a nice, domed top to the cupcake, bake at 375°. This higher temperature activates the baking power in the cake and results in a more even crumb inside the cake. You will also shorten the oven time for the cupcakes.

I have always wondered how to calculate the baking time for cupcakes and King Arthur Flour has some tips for that, too. They say to reduce baking time by 5% if your recipe called for 9” pans and you plan to bake at the same temperature listed in the recipe. If your recipe called for a 9”x13” cake pan, reduce baking time by as much as 40-50%. However, the most important thing they recommend is recognizing when the cupcakes are done cooking. The surface should be lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the center should look crumb free when removed. The cupcakes should spring back if lightly touched. If you have a thermometer, you can insert that and if the temperature is between 205° and 210° the cupcakes are done.

This makes me want to leave the office and go home and bake some cake. Or cupcakes.

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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Liquid Smoke, that Controversial Condiment

Liquid smoke is a condiment that invites controversy.  Barbecue purists roll their eyes and say “no way.”  Health groups consistently voice concern over possible health risks. Yet despite all the ‘nay’, there is a strong ‘yay’ with marketing trends showing that the condiment is growing in popularity as a flavor additive.

Liquid smoke is made by channeling smoke from smoldering woodchips through a condenser that quickly cools the vapors causing them to liquefy.  The water-soluble flavor compounds in the smoke are trapped within the liquid while the insoluble tars and resins are removed by a series of filters.  The results is a clean, all natural smoke-flavored liquid that provides a cookout-like flavor when outdoor grilling isn’t an option.

Ernest H Wright is credited with introducing liquid smoke in 1895.  As a teenager, he worked in a print shop and noticed the liquid dropping from the stove pipe that heated the shop tasted like smoke.  Years later as a pharmacist, he experimented and perfected the process of condensing hot smoke from a wood fire to create Wright’s Liquid Smoke which is still sold today and remains as a pure product, smoke and water.

Unless liquid smoke has added chemicals or ingredients, it is an all-natural product—just smoke suspended in water. (It should be noted that some brands add molasses, vinegar, and other flavorings so read the label to be sure that it is just smoke and water.)  Liquid smoke is used as a flavor additive in a whole host of foods beyond the little bottles on the grocery shelf.  It is the source of the smoky flavor in commercial barbecue sauces, bacon, hot dogs, smoked meats, cheeses, and nuts to name a few.  The process of adding liquid smoke or smoked flavorings to foods is justification for the use of the word “smoke” on package labeling.

What about the health risks?  Smoke, no matter the source, contains cancer-causing chemicals.  Some of those chemicals persist even in the extracts making liquid smoke a potential cancer risk.  Studies have shown that the amount of carcinogenic chemical found in liquid smoke depends on the type of hardwood used and the temperature at which it is burned. Other studies have shown that liquid smoke is less risky than food charred and cooked over smoke. A researcher at NYU found that controlled smoking plus an ensuing filtering process removed most, if not all, of these compounds. Therefore, most experts contend that the concentrations of the carcinogenic molecules in liquid smoke are far too low for any genuine health concerns as one would need to consume far more liquid smoke than most recipes call for to see any effects. Moderation is key with this magical ingredient, so use a light amount (1/4 teaspoon) in dishes for the safest route and if sediment is detected, let it settle and use only the liquid above it.

Liquid smoke has zero calories, zero fat, and most brands are low in sodium (about 10 mg per teaspoon), but it still brings an intense flavor like bacon.  Knowing that we should use it sparingly, it may be brushed on meats to add a depth of flavor or added to foods that generally rely on saturated fats and salt to bring out their flavor; thus it may add flavor for those on restricted diets who find that their food lacks flavor. Just a dash imparts that distinctive meaty, salty flavor that we know and love.   Taste of Home says “there is almost no sauce that wouldn’t benefit from a few drops of liquid smoke.  Adding a few drops to everything from your BBQ sauce to vinaigrette to your ranch dressing will help elevate your burgers, salads, and everything in-between.”

I’m inclined to agree with the barbecue purists–liquid smoke does not replace true smoke, but I enjoy using a little liquid smoke now and again when smoking or grilling is not possible or to step up the flavor of foods and sauces.

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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Ham tips

This time of year AnswerLine gets a lot of calls about ham. Ham is meat from the hind leg of pork. It can be fresh, cured, or cured-and-smoked. Hams are either ready to eat or not. Ready to eat hams include cooked hams and prosciutto. Hams that must be cooked will have cooking instructions and safe handling instructions right on the label and you MUST cook them. Typically you cook ham at 325 degrees for 10 minutes per pound or to an internal temperature of 145 degrees followed by a 3 minute rest time. To help keep ham moist and juicy during cooking, place cut side down and tent with foil.

Fresh refers to uncured leg of pork. It will have the flavor of a fresh pork loin roast or pork chops. “Fresh” will be part of the product name on the label. The color will be pale pink or beige as opposed to cured ham being a deep rose or pink color and country or dry cured ham being pink to mahogany in color.

Hams can be wet-cured, which is very common, in a brine solution containing water, salt, sugar and spices. During this process the solution is injected into the meat before cooking. There are three varieties of wet-brined ham. “Ham with natural juices” has little water added during the curing process and results in an attractive appearance with a velvety type texture. “Ham with water added” retains more water during the process and is good for steaks, thin slicing and shaving. A “Ham and water product” has the most water added to it and is most often found at the deli counter. It is a good choice if the ham is going to be served cold.

Hams can be dry-cured by rubbing salt and spices into the meat’s surface. They are known as “country-style” hams. Prosciutto is also made using a dry cure.

After curing some hams are smoked. This is a process involving hanging or heating the ham in a smokehouse to allow it to absorb smoke from either smoldering fires or generated smoke which gives added flavor and color.

When purchasing ham allow 1/4 -1/3 pound per serving if it is boneless and 1/3 -1/2 pound per serving if it is bone-in. If you end up with enough leftover ham you won’t be able to consume it within 3 or 4 days consider freezing the leftovers. has excellent information on ham storage and ham cooking.



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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My son just purchased some new bread knives. It caused me to re-evaluate the knives I have in my own kitchen. Knives can seem like an expensive investment but having the right knife for the job can make your time in the kitchen so much more productive and efficient. Some people purchase knife sets. If you are going to use all the knives in the set, that is a good investment. For me there are three knives I find myself reaching for over and over. One is the Chef’s knife. It is very versatile being used for chopping vegetables, slicing meat, and mincing garlic and herbs. It can be from 5-8 inches long, typically 8 inches, and is considered the workhorse of the kitchen.

A paring knife is another knife I find I am constantly reaching for. It is usually 3-4 inches long and is perfect for peeling and coring as well as cutting small fruits and vegetables.

The third knife I use frequently is the serrated knife, or bread knife. It can be used for slicing crusty bread, of course, and also for cutting very soft fruits and vegetables, like tomatoes. They are usually 9-10 inches long and don’t sharpen very well so need to be replaced every now and then depending on how often you use them.

When you get ready to purchase knives, there are a few things to consider. Most importantly is your budget. Buy the best-quality knives you can afford and keep them sharp. A good knife, if cared for properly, can last a lifetime.

You will also want to hold the knife in your hand before you purchase. How it feels is basically personal preference. Look for a knife that feels like an extension of your hand. It should feel perfectly balanced, sturdy and comfortable in your hand with an ergonomic grip.

You may want to consider if the knife you are looking at is forged or stamped. Forged knives are created when a single piece of molten steel is cut and beaten into the desired shape. Forged knives have a sturdy blade with a heavy bolster (junction between blade and handle) and heel to protect the hand when cutting. They typically hold a sharp edge well. They are less flexible than their counterpart, stamped knives, and generally are more expensive than stamped knives. Stamped knives are created using a cookie-cutter type machine. They are usually the same thickness throughout, except at the cutting edge, and lack a bolster and heel. Their blades are generally lighter and more flexible and they do not hold their edge as well.

After you have purchased the knives that are right for your uses, remember to use them on the right cutting surfaces such as a plastic or wood cutting board. Using your knives on a plate, tile, countertop, etc will dull the blades. And using a sharp knife is much safer than using a dull one. Dull knives require more pressure to cut, increasing the chance the knife will slip with the force behind it.

You will also want to care for your knives correctly once you have invested in them. Leaving unwashed knives in the sink or putting them in the dishwasher are no-nos. Besides keeping your knives sharp, hand washing and drying them and storing them in protective sleeves will help your knives work their best and last as long as possible.

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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Olive Oils

A frequent question at AnswerLine is “what kind of olive oil should I use?”  The question is often asked by those who are new to olive oil or those who have been advised to consider a Mediterranean Diet.  As they begin to navigate new territory, they find that there are a variety of olive oil choices. Choosing the olive oil depends on how much flavor is needed, what the cooking usage will be, and the available budget. It also helps to understand the classifications and common marketing terms used on olive oil labels.

Here’s a quick primer on olive oils from Fooducate, a blog sponsored by the North American Olive Oil Association.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is the most flavorful and the healthiest olive oil, because it is naturally produced without heat or chemicals. It retains healthy antioxidants from the olives. The range of flavors is very broad, similar to wines. The oil may be strong and peppery, mild and buttery, or anywhere in between. The natural variations result in a wide smoke point range, from about 350 degrees Fahrenheit to about 410 degrees Fahrenheit. This range is high enough for most at-home cooking. Extra virgin olive oil can be used for sautéing, grilling, roasting, baking and pan-frying. To highlight the many flavor profiles, extra virgin olive oil does best in cold applications like drizzling, dipping, dressings and marinades.

 First Press, Cold Pressed or Cold Extracted – Extra Virgin Olive Oils may use these marketing terms. Extra virgin olive oil is produced by crushing the olives without adding any heat or using any chemicals and in fact, all extra virgin olive oil is produced this way even if the label doesn’t call it out. Extra virgin olive oils might list the type of olive or olives the oil was made from, as well as the country or region the olives were grown. Like wine, these indicators help suggest the typical flavors consumers might expect from that oil. Some manufacturers blend different extra virgin olive oils together in order to offer a consistent flavor profile all the time. Also like wine, the best way to determine which ones to buy is through trying different oils with different foods.

Refined Olive Oil – During production, oil with high acidity or flavor or aroma defects will be refined to remove the defects, resulting in Refined Olive Oil. Refining removes odors and flavors using heat and physical or chemical processes. Most seed and nut oils are solvent-extracted and then refined; refined olive oil begins with the natural extraction from the olives and the following refining process for olive oil does not involve solvents such as hexane.

Olive Oil is a blend of refined olive oil with some virgin or extra virgin olive oil added back for flavor. Olive oil has a mild olive flavor, making it a great oil to substitute for other common cooking oils like vegetable oil and canola oil without changing the taste of the recipe. Because it is mostly refined, olive oil has a higher and more consistent smoke point range from about 390 degrees to about 470 degrees Fahrenheit. Baked goods made with olive oil have a light texture and stay moist longer than those made with other common cooking oils. Olive oil’s subtle flavor and heat resistance make it well-suited for dressings, marinades, sautéing, grilling, roasting, baking and pan-frying.

Classic or Pure Olive Oil is the same as Olive Oil and always refers to a blend of refined oil with some EVOO or Virgin Olive Oil added for flavor.

Other things to know about olive oil:

  •  The fat and calories are the same in ALL grades of olive oil.
  •  Olive oil does NOT get better with age. Look for the furthest out “best by date” when purchasing.
  • Store olive oil in a cool, dark place and tightly covered; under these conditions, it should remain fresh for about 18 to 24 months.  An open bottle of olive oil can also be refrigerated to extend its shelf life and such is especially recommended in hot, humid environments.  Refrigerating olive oil may cause the oil to become cloudy and even solidify; this will not affect the flavor or quality.  At room temperature, the oil will return to its normal consistency and color.  When stored properly, olive oil will be safe to consume after the “best date”.
  • Oil should be discarded if an off odor, flavor, or appearance is detected.
  • Olive oil is very high in monounsaturated fats and contains a modest amount of vitamins E and K. True extra virgin olive oil is loaded with antioxidants, some of which have powerful health benefits.
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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Fajita Seasoning

The temperature is so cold today that it is a perfect day to stay inside.  I like to take advantage of these kind of days to mix up some spice blends that I will use year round.  One of my favorites is a fajita seasoning mix from a recipe that I found on the internet years ago.  I have been making it ever since.  The combination of spices and the addition of cornstarch make great flavor and it thickens up sauces when used on both meats and vegetables.  I now provide jars of this seasoning to my extended family as well!  You can be assured that they let me know when their jars are getting empty!  There are many combinations of spices that can be put together, but here is the recipe that I use.

If you are interested in other spice mixes check out these recipes from North Dakota State Extension.


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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