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Which apple to use?

applesIt is Apple Season! October is National Apple Month. There are so many varieties you may be wondering which variety is best for specific uses, how to store them for best quality, or how many apples are in a pound or bushel.

Apples are considered a great snack food as an average sized apple contains about 90 calories and is about 85% water. That makes them thirst quenching and a quick energy provider with their natural sugars, plus the bulky pulp makes the eater feel full.

Apples may be displayed in a fruit bowl at room temperature for a short period of time but that will dramatically reduce their usable life. Apples will last the longest when kept close to 32 degrees. For most of us that would mean the refrigerator. Apples stored near 32 degrees in perforated plastic bags or covered containers will last 8-10 times longer than if stored at room temperature.

One pound of apples equals 2 large, 3 medium, or 4 to 5 small which would make about 3 cups peeled and cut-up fruit. Two pounds of apples would be enough for a 9-inch pie.

One bushel of apples equals about 40 pounds. That would be enough for 20 nine-inch pies or 15-20 quarts of applesauce.

The best baking apples offer a balance of sweet and tart flavors as well as flesh that doesn’t break down in the oven. Granny Smith apples are generally thought of as the go-to baking apples but there are others that hold up under heat and balance the sweet-tart flavor. The crisp texture of the Honey crisp apple will hold firm when baked or caramelized. Pink Lady apples will retain a distinct shape when diced and added to coffee cake or muffins.  Jonathans are tart and tangy and have been pie favorites for many

years. Cooks Illustrated recommends the following six varieties of apples for pie baking: Sweet  – Golden Delicious, Braeburn, Jonagold; Tart – Granny Smith, Empire, Courtland.

Bred to be an eating apple, Red Delicious are unsuitable for baking. They are mild-flavored, sweet, and juicy. Other apples good for eating fresh are Gala, Fuji, and Braeburn.

Enjoy apple season this year and have fun experimenting with different variety combinations in your baking.

For more information go to the U.S. Apple Association for an apple usage chart.

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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Try Grilling Pizza

Have you ever tried using your grill to cook a homemade pizza? If you haven’t done it before you should try it!  Not only is it easy to do, the pizza has a wonderful crispy crust and you are not heating up your house cooking it inside!  I usually make a homemade crust but there are several options available at the grocery store if you want to save that step and purchase one.  If you use your favorite homemade pizza dough recipe spread both sides with corn meal to keep it from sticking to the grill grates.

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You are then ready to put the pizza crust on a hot grill. The crust will cook quickly so watch it carefully to make sure it doesn’t get to dark. Usually it will only take a couple of minutes. Once you see grill marks simply flip it over so both sides are cooked evenly. *We will be putting it back on the grill with the toppings for the final cooking.)  When finished the crust should have char marks on it.

grilled-pizza-1

When it is done remove the crust to a cutting board or cookie sheet. Now you are ready for your toppings. We like to be creative but you can use any toppings that you like. Our favorite is chicken, bacon, ranch with spinach. The ranch dressing is our pizza sauce   Make sure that your toppings aren’t piled too high since we will be returning it to the grill to finish cooking.

grilled-pizza

If you have a charcoal grill the last cooking will be done with indirect heat meaning that you will want to gather your coals to one side of the grill. The pizza will cook in the other side. I have a gas grill so I simply turn off one side of the burners. This indirect heat will be like putting it in your oven. The toppings will heat and the cheese will melt. The result will be a pizza that your family will rave about!

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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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Using a Pressure Cooker

Pressure canner3Canning season is in full swing for many people. AnswerLine gets many calls about using a pressure cooker for canning. A pressure cooker is NOT designed for canning but it has many other great uses. I have friends who use theirs weekly for the time-saving convenience. Many of us are looking for that on busy weeknights!

Pressure cooking uses water or another liquid heated to boiling to produce steam. Water, as you know, boils at 212 degrees F. Steam is hotter than boiling water and can get up to @250 degrees F. Trapping that steam puts pressure on the food in the pan which cooks it 3-10 times faster.

Less liquid is required when pressure cooking as compared to conventional cooking. You will want to use at least one cup of liquid but never fill the pressure cooker more than half full with liquid. You can always use more liquid than the recipe calls for but never less. You can fill the cooker up to 2/3 full with food but not over that. If you are cooking foods that expand significantly (rice, beans, grains, soups) do not fill the cooker more than half full. The steam needs space to build up in the cooker.

Begin cooking over high heat for the pressure to build up then lower the heat so pressure is maintained without exceeding it. Timing is as important as building up the steam when pressure cooking. I recommend you set a digital kitchen timer for the recommended cooking time. It is always better to undercook than overcook. You can always cook in additional 1-5 minute intervals if the food needs to be cooked longer.

Foods should be cut into uniform sized pieces for best results. If you are cooking meat, potatoes, and vegetables start with the meat. Cook until half done, release the pressure and add the potatoes. Cook them for 2/3 their recommended time, release the pressure and lastly add the quicker cooking vegetables.

To release the pressure from the cooker, follow the manufacturer’s directions for your particular model. Some recommend the Natural Release method and some the Quick Release method.

Pressure cooking is virtually fat-free since the steam cooks the food so no added fats need to be used. The quick cooking in an almost airless environment helps retain nutrients and the high temperature steam intensifies the flavors so less seasoning needs to be used.

Pressure cookers are best suited for cooking foods that are naturally tough or require long cooking times but you can cook almost anything in them. Just remember – pressure cookers are NOT for canning! Pressure canners must be large enough to hold 4 quart sized jars!

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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Which butter for baking?

IMG_8023 - CopyWhen I go to the grocery store I am finding more and more options for butter. That has made me wonder which butter is best for baking when my recipe just calls for “butter”. I consulted King Arthur Flour to find what differences there are among butters.

According to King Arthur Flour, Grade AA butter has the most buttery flavor. It has 18% water, at least 80% butterfat, and 1%-2% milk solids. It is great for baking and spreading.

European style butter (i.e. Kerrygold) has less water and is higher in fat, ranging from 82%-86%. In baking it can create a more greasy or sometimes drier product if European style butter is not specifically called for in the recipe.

Whipped butter  is aerated with a special type of gas to make it more spreadable. It also contains additives that keep it from going bad. Whipped butter is not recommended for baking.

Cultured butter (i.e. Organic Valley) is slightly tangier because it is inoculated with live bacteria that release lactic acid. Cultured butter is also not recommended for baking ~ but it is delicious ON baked products!

The salt in Salted butter acts as a preservative and masks any potentially off flavors. Because of that, it often sits on grocery store shelves longer than unsalted butter does. Most brands of salted butter contain about 1/4 teaspoon of salt per 1/2 cup stick.

So – the recommended butter to use in most baking recipes is AA unsalted butter. That way you are able to control the amount of salt in your recipe and have the most buttery flavor.

If you choose to use margarine in your baking, choose one with 100 calories per tablespoon. If it has less calories than that, it means water has been whipped into the margarine which will affect your finished product. Typically that is the store brand.

Happy baking!

 

 

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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Salt . . . Which for What?

salt 2Sea salt, table salt, kosher salt, Himalayan salt, pickling salt, fleur de sel, flavored salt, smoked salt, low-sodium salt . . .  The list of salt choices has grown far beyond the single salt shaker we once knew.  The grocery shelves are now lined with numerous possibilities.  Why so many choices?  Is one better than another?  Which should you use for what?

The answer to such questions could become an entire SALT 101 course.    Bottom line, all salts are not created equal but essentially are alike.  Salt, in any form, is a crystalline mineral made of two elements, sodium and chlorine, both essential to life.  However, in our quest to get these essential elements, we must be mindful that the American Heart Association recommends keeping our salt intake to less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day or roughly two-thirds of a teaspoon of table salt.   Most of the world’s salt is harvested from underground salt mines or by evaporating sea water or other mineral-rich waters.  It is the processing after harvest that makes the difference.

Here’s a quick “shake” on salt:

Table Salt – Table salt is available plain or fortified with iodine; iodine is important for thyroid regulation. Table salt also dissolves the quickest making it ideal for most cooking and baking.

Kosher Salt – Many chefs use kosher as it is a flatter, lighter, and flakier salt.  Because of its irregular shaped granules and subtle crunch, it is a good salt to use to flavor food as the larger grains give you less sodium per teaspoon.  Kosher salt is also commonly used to rim margaritas.

Sea Salt – The bigger granules of sea salt offer more flavor with less sodium.  However, it may not be a good choice for routine cooking or baking since it does not dissolve easily and can cause issues with the taste and texture of dishes prepared with it.  It is great for garnishing.

Low-Sodium Salt – The sodium chloride is reduced with the addition of potassium chloride, a mineral that tastes salty but is bitter when heated.  It works well as a replacement in the salt shaker at the table but should not be used by those on blood pressure medications.

Pickling Salt – Canning salt or pickling salt is pure salt and as such is more concentrated.  It contains no additives.  This is the best choice for canning, pickling, sauerkraut making, and brining meat.  A publication by Penn State University, Types of Salt and Salt Substitutes in Canning, offers some great information on using salt in food preservation.

Gourmet Salts – This group might include salts by such names as Fleur de Sel, Sel Gris, infused salt, Himalayan salt, Celtic salt, and others.  These salts tend to be more expensive and are used for various purposes in food preparation but largely they make a great finishing salt for the special flavors they may impart.

Rock Salt – Mined from deposits in the earth, rock salt is for making ice cream and deicing.  It should not be used directly on food.  Minerals and other harmless impurities can give it a grayish color.

The above is by no means a complete list of all salt possibilities but will hopefully help you navigate some of the choices available.

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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Too many berries? Freeze a pie!

imageMy family loves pie! My son, who lives on the east coast, firmly believes you can’t find a pie there that equals what you can find in the Midwest. With berry season here, you may want to consider making some extra pies now to freeze for later use.

If freezing an UNBAKED filled pie, add an extra 1-2 Tablespoons flour or ½ Tablespoon cornstarch to compensate for the extra moisture that will exude while baking. Do not cut vents in the top of double crust pies before freezing. Wrap, label, and freeze for up to three months. Bake unthawed pies at 425 degrees 15 minutes, reduce heat to 375 degrees, and bake an additional 25-35 minutes. For easier clean-up, bake the pie on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

BAKED and filled double-crust pies may be frozen up to 6 months. Be sure to wrap them well and label them before freezing. When ready to eat the pie, loosen the wrapping, and thaw in the refrigerator. Warm thawed pies in a 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes. Cover the edges of the crust with foil to prevent burning if necessary.

I plan to freeze some pies for the next time my son comes home!

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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Can your green beans safely!

imageFor some people, the middle of summer is the Fourth of July weekend. For me, it is when our callers all begin to ask questions about canning green beans.  At AnswerLine, the middle of summer officially started in the first week of August.  That is when our phone lines started to get really busy and we spent most of the day talking about green beans.

The most common question callers have is: “Is it really necessary to process my green beans in a pressure canner?”  Or a variation of that call is “How many hours do I need to process my green beans in a boiling water bath canner?”

The answer, of course, is the green beans MUST be processed in a pressure canner to ensure that the botulism bacteria are inactivated. There is NO safe time that low acid foods like beans can be processed in a boiling water bath canner.

Even though the occurrence of those bacteria your green beans is rare, the consequences are quite severe.  Botulism poisoning can cause death or very severe illness that can have a long recovery time.  I think we can all agree that it is more important to protect our family members than to save a little time or money taking a short cut.

If you don’t own a pressure canner, consider freezing the beans, borrowing a canner, or purchasing one on sale at the end of the canning sale.

Also, remember to always use current, safe, tested canning recipes and procedures. Always make altitude adjustments if you live at an altitude over 1000’.

Follow those rules to preserve safe food for your family. Remember if you have any questions you can always call us at AnswerLine.

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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Harvesting and Ripening Pears

Pear season is coming.  It typically starts early in August for early maturing varieties and continues into the fall for later maturing varieties.  Therefore, it is time to begin checking your trees for fruit maturity and harvest before the pears are fully ripe for later enjoyment.  While most types of fruit reach their peak on the branch or vine, the classic European* pears are an exception and need to be picked before ripening.  Most varieties ripen from the inside out; if left on the tree to ripen, they will become brown at the core and mushy in the middle.  Further, pears have a grainy texture caused by cells in the fruit called stone cells.  Picking pears before they have matured, and holding them under cool conditions, prevents the formation of the stone cells and resulting gritty pear.

To avoid such results, pears must be picked when they are mature but not yet fully ripened.  Unfortunately, there isn’t a pat answer to knowing when pears are ready for picking.  Due to firmness and variations in color, neither touch or sight are good indicators of maturity.  Here are some tips to help determine whether pears a20160724_104315re mature and ready for picking:

  • Tree attachment:  Pears are best picked when the fruit separates easily from the twigs.  Take the fruit in your hand and tilt it horizontally.  The mature fruit will easily come away from the branch at this angle (as opposed to its natural vertical hanging position).  If it holds on to the branch, it isn’t ready.
  • Flesh texture:  A mature pear should have a feeling of springiness to its flesh and give slightly when gently squeezed in the hand.  If it feels rock hard, it’s not ready.
  • Drops: Healthy pears begin to drop as they reach maturity.  If you see fruit on the ground, it is a sure sign that it is time to check the fruit on the tree.

Once harvested, most pears will require about a week to ripen at room temperature (64-72F).  This will result in optimum quality and smoothness of flesh.  If you store the fruit in a paper bag, you can speed up the ripening process.  Adding an apple or a banana to the bag will also speed ripening as these fruits release ethylene gas, a ripening accelerant.  If you want to keep pears for a longer period of time, store the freshly picked fruit in the refrigerator; they will keep for many weeks.

Ripened pears can be used in a variety of ways—fresh eating, baking, canning, freezing, preserving.  If canning, freezing, or preserving pears, check for recipes and guidelines at the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

*Asian pears, unlike European pears, should be allowed to ripen on the tree and need no ripening time. Asian pears are ready for harvest when they come away easily from the branch when lifted and twisted slightly and the green skin color starts to change to yellow. Asian pears should be crisp and crunchy when eaten.

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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Go ‘Bananas’ for Summer Treats

July is National Ice Cream month and even has its own day on July 17th in 2016! Ice cream as we know it is made from dairy products, sweeteners, gelatin, flavorings, fruits and other ingredients. America loves ice cream. In fact, the average American consumes nearly 22 pounds of this delectable dessert per year (IDFA.com).

But look out ice cream, there’s a new ‘one ingredient ice-cream’ in town and it’s taking the internet and media by storm! It’s low in fat, cholesterol, and sodium, and is a great source of dietary fiber, potassium, and manganese. Further, it’s perfect for those looking for a guilt-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, nut-free, soy-free, egg-free, or vegan treat with no added sugar. What is it?

If you guessed BANANAS, you are right!! Thanks to banana’s high pectin content and a bit of kitchen wizardry, bananas make a wonderful soft-serve treat. And because it’s a simple, make-it-yourself treat, you can personalize it with additions of other fruits, nut butters, chocolate chips, nuts, cocoa, spices, or any other add-in desired. Or, bananas can be the only ingredient.

Besides bananas (and any other fruit or add-in desired), you will need a high-powered processor to pulverize the fruit. There are designated frozen dessert soft-serve processors on the market which work very well such as the Yonanas, Big Boss, and Dessert Bullet. However, a blender or food processor will usually work equally as well as long as it is powerful enough to pulverize frozen bananas.

So how do you make this magical treat? It starts with the bananas. Always use bananas that are ‘cheetah spotted’ or over ripe. 20160531_223140These bananas are the sweetest and have developed their pectin potential. 20160531_223509

 

Peel the bananas and cut into ¼-inch coins if using a food processor or blender; if a designated dessert processor is used, follow the manufactures directions.20160531_223744

Place the banana pieces in an airtight freezer bag and freeze for at least 2 hours before using; 24 hours is best. Do the same with other fruits you intend to use with your bananas. Remove bananas and other fruit from the freezer and let thaw for 10-15 minutes before making your treat.

One large banana will make two servings especially if additional fruit is used. The ratio of banana to other fruit is about one banana to 3/8 cup fruit. You can make a bigger batch as long as the food processor or blender is big enough and powerful enough. If using a designated dessert processor, follow the manufacturers’ directions for preparing your soft-serve treat by feeding the fruit through the tube into the pulverizing part of the machine.

20160609_203407If using a blender or food processor, follow these instructions: place the frozen banana pieces (and other frozen fruit , if using) in the blender or food processor and pulse. At first the banana pieces will look crumbled, then mushy and gooey something like oatmeal, and suddenly they will magically become smooth and creamy. You will have to stop occasionally and scrape down the sides and help move the fruit into the blades. After the magic happens, continue to blend for a few more seconds to add a little air and blend in any nut butters, cocoa, flavorings or spices desired. 

20160609_204819The banana soft-serve is now ready to eat. Stir in any additional whole or chopped add-ins or top off as desired. OR, put it in an airtight container and freeze until solid or for later use.

Recipe ideas are endless. To get started, check out Banana “Ice Cream”, Chocolate Banana Ice Cream, and the Yonanas recipe website and let your imagination go. Enjoy your ______-free treat!

 

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.

More Posts

Too many berries? Freeze a pie!

imageMy family loves pie! My son, who lives on the east coast, firmly believes you can’t find a pie there that equals what you can find in the Midwest. With berry season here, you may want to consider making some extra pies now to freeze for later use.

If freezing an UNBAKED filled pie, add an extra 1-2 Tablespoons flour or ½ Tablespoon cornstarch to compensate for the extra moisture that will exude while baking. Do not cut vents in the top of double crust pies before freezing. Wrap, label, and freeze for up to three months. Bake unthawed pies at 425 degrees 15 minutes, reduce heat to 375 degrees, and bake an additional 25-35 minutes. For easier clean-up, bake the pie on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

BAKED and filled double-crust pies may be frozen up to 6 months. Be sure to wrap them well and label them before freezing. When ready to eat the pie, loosen the wrapping, and thaw in the refrigerator. Warm thawed pies in a 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes. Cover the edges of the crust with foil to prevent burning if necessary.

I plan to freeze some pies for my son for the next time he comes home!image

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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