Lettuce!

 

This year, it seems like winter has a grip on us and just will not let go. One thing that does make me feel like spring is coming is looking at the lettuce at the grocery store and dreaming about planting some out in my garden.

When I look at the variety of lettuce available at the store, it seems like there must be almost endless number of different types. Actually, there are really only five different types of lettuce.

    • Leaf lettuce (sometimes called loose-leaf lettuce)
    • Romaine (sometimes called Cos lettuce)
    • Crisphead lettuce
    • Butterhead Lettuce
    • Stem lettuce (sometimes called Asparagus lettuce)

Leaf lettuce has crisp leaves arranged loosely on a stalk.   Most home gardeners that grow lettuce have leaf lettuce in their gardens. It is the most widely planted salad vegetable.

Cos or Romaine

Cos or Romaine lettuce can be easily recognized as it has an upright rather elongated head. It is great as an addition to tossed salads.

Butterhead lettuce

Butterhead lettuce may be less familiar but are typically smaller, loose headed, and have soft and tender leaves. This too makes an excellent addition to tossed salads.

Stem lettuce is not always available at our local grocery stores. It is actually an enlarged seed stalk often used in Chinese dishes. Sometimes it is stewed or creamed.

The lettuce that everyone seems to be familiar with is the Crisphead lettuce. This type is found in nearly every grocery store—think iceberg lettuce. It seems odd to me that this most common lettuce is actually one of the most difficult to grow. Start this in the garden very early in the spring, as it is very sensitive to heat. If the lettuce is not mature before the hot weather arrives, the lettuce will often die.

Sometimes callers want to know why the lettuce they grew in the garden is bitter. This often happens when the weather turns warmer and stalks for seeds begin to grow. If you wash the lettuce and store it in the refrigerator for a couple of days, the bitterness will dissipate.

Store your lettuce in the coolest part of your refrigerator. The first shelf near the back wall of the refrigerator is usually the coolest spot. Avoid placing the lettuce near pears, bananas, or apples. These fruits give off ethylene gas, which can cause the lettuce to develop brown spots and decay. Discard any lettuce that has black spots or seems slimy.

Due to the composition of lettuce, (94.9% water) there is no way to successfully preserve it. Enjoy lettuce fresh and often.  And remember that spring will be here eventually.

 

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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Olive Oil, A Healthier Baking Option

Recently an AnswerLine caller asked if olive oil could be substituted for butter in a cake recipe she wanted to prepare.  Extra virgin or extra light olive oil can be a butter or margarine substitute in most baking recipes.  However, it is not a 1:1 substitute; rather it is a 3:4 ratio (3 parts olive oil to 4 parts butter/margarine) for butter or margarine.  Butter is made from milk solids and water so an even swap would result in the baked product being too greasy and heavy.  The caller’s recipe was for 1 cup butter so she was advised to use ¾ cup of olive oil.  (For help with other butter measurements, click here.) Besides the ratio consideration, olive oil may not be a good substitute if the recipe requires creaming of butter and sugar to create a light and airy cake or product.

When recipes call for vegetable or canola oil, extra virgin or light olive oil is a perfect choice; in these recipes, the swap is a 1:1 ratio (1 cup vegetable oil = 1 cup olive oil).  Olive oil can be used to prep baked good pans as well.  When a recipe calls for buttering and flouring baking pans, brush the pan with olive oil and dust with flour for the same effect as butter.

Will one notice the flavor of olive oil in baked products and desserts?  Olive oil has long been known as a flavorful and versatile cooking oil trusted for sautéing, stir-frying, dressings, marinating, and grilling.  There are several varieties of olive oil available each offering its own distinct colors, aroma, and flavor.  Extra light or extra virgin olive oil is the  best for baking; either offers the most delicate aroma and subtle flavor that often compliments baked goods.  Olive oil contributes moistness to bake products and brings out the flavor of some ingredients.  It is especially good in recipes using spices and chocolate.  However, if one is new to olive oil and its flavor, starting with half butter/half olive oil or half vegetable oil/half olive oil is a good way to develop taste.

When olive oil is used in baking, the recipe becomes healthier because olive oil is lower in saturated fat than butter.  Additionally, it provides high levels of mono-unsaturated “good” fat and low levels of saturated “bad” fat, making it a better nutritional choice when compared to butter or margarine.  And since olive oil is a 3:4 ratio to butter/margarine, calories are saved, too.  Olive oil also adds extra antioxidants (natural chemicals that help protect cells) and vitamin E which contribute to heart health.  Vitamin E may also help to keep baked products fresher longer.

Olive oil is fragile and needs to be stored properly for the best flavor, quality, and health benefits.  Store it in a cool, dark place and not over or near the range or oven.  Heat, light, and air cause the oil to break down over time leading to off-flavor and nutrition loss.

Adding olive oil  to baked recipes is nothing new.  However, it may be new to you.  Experimenting and sampling is the only way to find out if the substitution is right for you.

Resource for  “click here”:  Olive Oil by Rosemary Rodibaugh, PhD, RD, LD, Professor (rrodibaugh@uaex.edu) and Katie Holland, MS, RD, Program Associate (kholland@uaex.edu), University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Extension and Research.

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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Baking Powder Biscuits

One of my favorite comfort foods over the years has been made from scratch baking powder biscuits. I enjoy biscuits and gravy, strawberry shortcake made with biscuits as the base and biscuits with just butter and jelly or honey. I recently found a restaurant near me that serves their sandwiches on homemade cheddar biscuits. Delicious!

When making biscuits at home, it can sometimes be a challenge to make them rise high and have straight sides. The goal is light and tender not heavy and tough. Ingredients and procedure have an effect of course but so does how you cut them out. You will achieve the best results by using something with a sharp edge and cutting straight down without twisting. Over the years some people have used glasses to cut biscuits out. It is hard to get a clean cut with a glass. Twisting is usually needed when using a glass also. These two movements end up compressing the edges of the biscuits and preventing the biscuits from getting the high rise and the traditional crack around the middle.

If you do not have good sharp biscuit cutters and do not make biscuits often enough to warrant the investment, you may use a sharp knife or pizza wheel to achieve the same results. And you do not need to make your biscuits round! The restaurant I have discovered serves their sandwiches on square biscuits.

If you are going to make square biscuits it is important to trim a strip around your square of dough before cutting into squares. Failing to do this will result in misshaped biscuits that will slope down toward the untrimmed side. You can bake the scraps of biscuit dough and enjoy though so nothing goes to waste.

I am looking forward to trying to replicate the cheddar biscuits this new-to-me restaurant makes and coming up with sandwich filling ingredients that will pair well with them!

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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Steaming Eggs

I have recently been visiting my mother-in-law. She loves having company and works so hard at making everyone feel comfortable and right at home. She always has some new cooking utensil or gadget she wants to share with me or a new cooking method she has discovered. On this visit she was busy steaming eggs. I am a firm believer in putting the eggs in a saucepan, covering them with cold water, bringing them to a boil, then removing them from the heat, covering the pan for the specified number of  minutes for your size egg and putting them in an ice bath for 5 minutes before peeling. My mother-in-law felt this process left the eggs difficult to peel. So she is now steaming her hard cooked eggs. She was so excited about it I decided to do a little research on it.

When hard cooked eggs are difficult to peel it is because the membrane that lines the shell is sticking itself to the egg white. When that happens it can be hard to peel the shell away without taking pieces of the white with it. For many of us that creates an unacceptable appearance.

My research found putting raw eggs into hot steam rapidly changes the outermost structure of the egg’s protein reducing it’s ability to bond with the membrane. The hot steam also causes the proteins to shrink as they start to bond together and the white begins to pull away from the membrane. That is why steaming eggs makes them easier to peel – the membrane has not attached itself so tightly to the white.

My mother-in-law purchased an egg steamer but you can easily steam eggs without one. In a saucepan, bring one inch of water to a boil. Lower a steamer basket with your eggs in it into the pan and cover it. Allow eggs to steam around 13 minutes for hard cooked and 6 and 1/2 minutes for soft cooked before transferring them to an ice bath.

The American Egg Board has done an article on steaming eggs as well that you may find interesting.

This method of steaming eggs works well on fresh eggs too. Just be sure your eggs are in a single layer in your steamer basket when you are steaming them.

I am definitely going to try steaming eggs for the deviled eggs I will be making for Easter and reporting in to my mother-in-law!

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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Key Limes

My sister and I recently spent some time together in Florida and of course enjoyed some Key Lime Pie. We were curious to learn more about key limes and what other uses there might be for them besides the delicious pie.

Key Limes are also known as Mexican or West Indies limes. They are smaller and sweeter than Persian limes (the kind you typically find in the grocery store) and have more seeds. They have a high juice content and thin, leathery skin. When purchasing key limes, choose those that are heavy for their size, firm, shiny, and have no blemishes or bruises.

Today most key limes come from Mexico and are available year round. The green color indicates they are immature but the juice from green key limes is known for it’s tart flavor. As key limes ripen they become more of a yellow color and their flesh is less acidic leading to a sweeter flavor.

Key limes can be stored in the pantry for up to one week. For longer storage you can keep them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 weeks. You can also freeze key limes whole. For best quality use frozen key limes within 3 to 4 months. You can defrost them in the microwave for a few seconds or in water for @15 minutes. They will be mushy when thawed but will be great for the juice.

Besides the pie, key limes can be used in cookies, cupcakes, cocktails, marinades and dressings. We have been inspired to experiment using key limes and reminicising about our fun times in Florida!

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 Cleaning Electric Pressure Cookers

Recently a friend emailed me asking how to clean an electric programmable pressure cooker (EPPC) so that it didn’t retain the smells of previous cooked foods.  This friend is certainly not the only one asking this question.  In fact, after I got my own EPPC, I had the same concern.  In my search for advice, I encountered lots of stories and advice from other EPPC owners with one owner even claiming to have found maggots growing in the condensation collector!  True or not, there are at least eight parts of any EPPC that should be cleaned after every use and it only takes minutes to do:  the inner pot, base, trivet, lid, silicone ring, pressure valve, condensation collector, and the anti-block shield.  With the exception of the base, all of these parts are dishwasher safe with most manufacturers.  The cooker base must be kept dry but can be wiped with a damp cloth.

It is always best to consult the manual that came with the EPPC for the best way to clean the appliance, but we know how manuals get misplaced or sometimes really don’t provide much information.  Another source is to look online for the EPPC manufacturer and hopefully find care information; however, this may not be possible with some generic EPPC brands.   One EPPC manufacturer, InstantPot, provides great care and cleaning tips.  While the tips may be specific to InstantPot, they would be useful for other EPPCs as well if information cannot be found from a specific manufacturer.

If after all of these areas have been cleaned properly and a lingering odor is still detected, it is likely coming from the silicon sealing ring as it does hold food odors.  I have found three ways to help defuse those odors: soaking the ring in vinegar, turning the lid upside down between uses or leaving the ring exposed to air, and placing a small box of baking soda in the unit between uses.   Other suggestions I’ve read include putting the ring in the sun, wiping the ring with a stainless steel soap disc, soaking or steaming in lemon water and baking soda, or purchasing two rings, one for savory and one for sweet.  If one does opt for a second sealing ring or needs to replace a ring, be sure to get genuine manufactured parts to ensure the EPPC will work correctly and safely.

Another concern EPPC users have is with the gradual discoloration of the stainless steel inner pot.  If it is turning a blue-yellow, white vinegar will bring it back to it’s original luster.  The procedure is to let white vinegar stand in the pot for at least 5 minutes and then rinse with water.  If the bottom of the pot is dulled perhaps due to sautéing or hard water, I have found that a small amount of baking soda or a non-abrasive scouring cleanser like Bar Keepers Friend Liquid Cleanser on a damp cloth or sponge does an excellent job of bringing back the original shine after rinsing and drying. Don’t use anything metallic for scouring because it will damage the finish!

These are the suggestions that I gave my friend as they seem to work well for me.  If you are an EPPC user and have additional suggestions, I’d love to hear your tips!

 

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

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

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Eat Like the Animals: Go for the Nuts!

An american red squirrel holding a nut in it’s paws.

Humans could take a tip from nut-loving animals like squirrels, chipmunks, and black bears! Somehow these animals know that nuts are good for them. Nuts are good for humans, too. They are a great source of plant protein, fiber, unsaturated fats, and important vitamins and minerals, thereby providing significant health benefits to both humans and animals. Besides, they taste good and make a great snack or addition to meals.

Here’s a quick look at the most common nuts available to us and their contributions to our health:

Almonds have more calcium than any other nut, plus an abundance of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, protein and fiber. A number of studies have shown that almonds may reduce LDL as well as risk factors for heart disease and diabetes.

Brazil nuts are high in protein, fiber, thiamine, copper, and magnesium and an incredibly rich source of selenium. Selenium is a mineral that acts as an antioxidant. Only a small amount of selenium is needed in the diet so one needs to watch quantities as high levels of selenium can be toxic. A one-ounce serving of Brazil nuts will provide more than 100% of the RDI for selenium. They may also help reduce cholesterol levels, oxidative stress, and inflammation.

Cashews are packed with iron, zinc, magnesium, copper, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. While they low in fiber, they are a source of oleic acid and provide good monounsaturated fat and some polyunsaturated fat. Like other nuts, they contribute to good heart health, muscles, and nerves and reduce the risk of diabetes.

Macadamia nuts contain a wide range of nutrients and are a great source of monounsaturated fat; in fact, per serving, they contain the most heart-healthy monounsaturated fats of all nuts. This may explain their ability to reduce risk factors for heart disease. Macadamia nuts are the most caloric of all nuts averaging 240 calories per quarter-cup.

Pecans are nutrient dense containing more than 19 vitamins and minerals. They are also a good source of fiber, contain antioxidants, and may help lower LDL cholesterol.

Pistachios are especially high in vitamin B6, thiamine, and copper and offer high levels of other vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Eaten in high quantities (more than 28 grams per day), pistachios appear to reduce risk factors for heart disease.

Walnuts are rich in polyunsaturated fats, particularly an omega-6 fatty acid called linoleic acid. They also contain a relatively high percentage of a healthy omega-3 fat called alpha-linolenic acid which is important for skin health. Studies have found that eating walnuts significantly reduced total cholesterol and LDL while increasing HDL. They also contain the most antioxidants compared with other nuts. Overall, walnuts are a winner among nuts.

While nuts are one of the healthiest of snacks, they are also high in calories so limiting consumption to one ounce/, quarter-cup portions/, or a small handful/per day is recommended. To reduce the calorie load from nuts, choose raw or dry-roasted instead of oil-roasted nuts. Further, nut choices should be minimally processed and have no added ingredients; in addition to oil, many snack-packaged nuts are high in salt or added flavors. Nutritionists suggest eating different kinds of nuts on different days to maximize nutrition available from the various kinds.

Nuts make an exceptional addition to meals or dishes, too. Some ideas include adding them to trail mix, sprinkling on salads, cereal, oatmeal or yogurt or using them crushed as a coating for fish, chicken, or other meats. Roasting nuts brings out their special flavors. To do so, preheat oven to 300F. Place shelled nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast for 7-10 minutes. They add nutrition and crunch to desserts and make great ravioli fillings and pesto.

Yes, the animals know—nuts are a very healthy food and pack a big bang for the bite in terms of their nutrients. Eat like the animals.

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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Using Creativity In The Kitchen

This is a big month for our family. In addition to expecting a new grand baby, we are also celebrating a birthday for the baby’s older brother! Since both events are happening within a few weeks, the grandma’s have gotten involved to help plan a birthday party. One of our favorite books to read to our grandson is The Little Blue Truck series of books. Therefore, what could be better than to plan a Little Blue Truck birthday party!

After looking for party ideas on Pinterest, Grandma Nyla and I have come up with a menu. We will be making pigs in a blanket, Rice Krispy treat hay bales, wheel shaped macaroni and cheese, Chex mix (chicken feed), deviled eggs (farm fresh eggs), carrot and celery stick with dip (farm fresh produce) and pulled pork sandwiches. Quite a combination of foods, but all contributing to the theme of the party!

My undertaking was to try to make little blue truck cookies. After checking at numerous kitchen stores in multiple cities, I finally decided that if I wanted the truck shape I would make my own pattern. After drawing the truck in the size that I wanted, I printed two copies on card stock. I used double stick tape to connect the two pieces together to make it a little sturdier. Using a sharp knife to cut around the edges of my rolled out cookie dough and I had my truck cookies. Since the pattern was thicker due to the two layers and the heavier card stock, I had no problems cutting around them with the knife.

I have frozen the cookies and they are ready to decorate as the party approaches! I did decorate one cookie so I could see how it would look and I am pleased to say that when my grandson came for a visit last week he picked up the cookie and started driving it on the counter! I would say that is a true sign of success!

Making my own cookie cutter was actually a fun challenge! Do not hesitate to let your creative juices flow and design your own. I have even more ideas for next Christmas!

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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Tips for avoiding curdling

We get more calls about curdled food this time of year than any other time. Callers are frustrated when their homemade tomato soup curdles. It can be annoying when making tomato soup or scalloped potatoes to have the product look curdled and lumpy. It certainly is not an appetizing way to serve a meal.

You should know that the protein in milk is likely to clump together or curdle, when exposed to acid or salt. A number of things can help you avoid this situation. When making cream of tomato soup, try adding the tomato to the milk rather than the opposite. Remember to have both the milk and tomato hot, and thicken either the tomato juice or milk before they are combined. Do serve the soup promptly.

If you are baking scalloped potatoes, avoiding high oven temperatures and long cooking time will make the milk less likely to curdle. Parboiling the potatoes shortens the cooking time and the likelihood of curdling. Using evaporated milk further aids the product.

If ham and scalloped potatoes are baked together, curdling will occur. Ham contains curing salts, which make the milk protein extremely unstable and causes them to curdle easily.

Think through the recipe and directions before you start cooking; you should be able to avoid curdling in your dish.

 

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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Sheet Pan Cooking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Marcia Steed

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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