Fall Spice Refresher

Summer may not be over yet but people are already craving spice-flavored foods, beverages,and smells.  Even before we had our Labor Day barbeques, Starbucks introduced it’s fall Pumpkin Spice Latte because customers were asking.  “Sweet” spices–cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, and ginger–go hand in hand with fall and holidays.  Now is a good time to prepare for the season of “spice and nice” and soups and stews by going through our spice collection to make sure we are ready when it comes time to reach.
Ground spices retain their goodness for about six months.  Whole spices such as allspice berries and cinnamon sticks stay fresher longer, 1-2 years, if stored in air-tight containers.  Vanilla extract is commonly used with the “sweet” spices to bring out their best.  Vanilla retains it’s best flavor for 12 months.  And while one is in the process, why not check out the herbs, too.  Like ground spices, herbs retain their best flavor for six months.  All spices and extracts should be kept in locations away from heat and light.  If a date is not present on the container, apply the smell test.  If you don’t detect an intense fragrance when you open the container, it’s likely time to replace it.  I’m always amazed at how much more flavorable something tastes when fresh spices or herbs are used.
While fall spices are reminenct of crips days, rustling leaves, baked goods, and hearty soups and stews, there are always lots of questions about which to use for what.  Here’s a quick primer:
Allspice (whole or ground)  is the dried unripe berries of the Pimenta dioica tree found in wamer parts of the world.  The berries combine the flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves and complements stews, yellow vegetables, pork, poultry, cakes, cookies, and sweet breads.  When ground allspice is not available, a good substitution is a mixture of half ground cinnamon and half ground cloves.
Cardomom is a blend of seeds that bring a warm and aromatic flavor that is delightful in baked goods like gingerbread; it is also a staple of Indian cuisine. It is often used  with cinnamon, cloves and chocolate.
Cinnamon (ground or stick) is a spice obtained from the inner bark of  the Cinnamomum tree. With its mildly-sweet-to-bittersweet flavor, cinnamon is a nice addition to baked goods, stews, curries, fruit, squash, oatmeal, pork and beef.  It pairs well with fruits and chocolate.  Cinnamon sticks are perfect for mulling cider, tea, or other fall beverages.
Cloves (whole and ground) are the aromatic flower buds from a tree found in India and other countries in that part of the world.  Cloves goes well with sweet breads, yellow vegetables, chocolate, and fruit.
Chili powder is the dried, pulverized fruit of one or more varieties of chili peppers, sometimes with the addition of other spices. It is used as a spice to add pungency and flavor to dishes. Commonly used in traditional Latin American dishes like enchiladas and tacos, a spoonful of chili powder also adds a welcome kick to grilled meats, stew, soup, a pot of beans, vegetables, and even chocolate.
Ginger adds a pungent zest to both sweet and savory dishes. It is derived from the Ginger plant rhizome known as ginger root or simply ginger.   Ginger is widely used as a spice or a folk medicine.  As a spice, ginger has so many uses:  baked goods, stir-fries, curries, hot tea and seafood. It also offers a great accent to garlic.
Spice Mixes (Apple Pie Spice, Pumpkin Pie Spice) are blends of ground cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, and ginger made specifically for convenience.  Both can be used as a seasoning in pie as well as general cooking and baking to enhance the flavors of any products using apples or pumpkin/squash.  There are many DIY recipes for making blends using basic spices such as these.
Enjoy the coming of fall and the smells and flavors that enhance it!
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

‘Tis the Season for Fruit Fly Control

Macro view of a fruit-fly sitting on watermelon.  Note the red eyes.

As the garden produce has come into the kitchen, so have the fruit flies.  Fruit flies are those pesky tiny insects harboring around the kitchen with reddish eyes and are attracted to anything fruit or vegetable in the area.  Beyond being a nuisance, they can also carry harmful bacteria.  They multiply rapidly so if not controlled quickly, a small problem becomes a big problem.

One of the best ways to control fruit flies in the home is to practice excellent sanitation, eliminate rotting fruits and vegetables and keep as much food in the refrigerator as possible. Keep counters, sinks, and drains clean at all times–even the dishwasher. Trash should be kept tied and taken out frequently, and compost scraps should not be allowed to pileup on the counter. Cracked or damaged portions of fruits and vegetables should be cut off and discarded immediately to prevent infestation.

Chemical control is not recommended; however, you can make your own traps using attractants commonly found in the kitchen such as cider vinegar, wine or even a small piece of fruit.   Put a small amount of the attractant in a glass or jar, cover  with a plastic wrap that fits tightly to the glass, and poke very small holes in the plastic.  Fruit flies will enter the glass but find themselves trapped.  The University of Nebraska offered another simple trap using yeast and sugar.

Once you’ve done the work to kill or trap fruit flies, keep them from coming back with these preventative measures:

1. Keep the counter clean. Fruit flies don’t just like to eat fruit; they also like spilled food, crumbs, spilled juice — just about anything. Wipe your counters frequently throughout the day and dry thoroughly.

2. Wash any produce coming into the home. Fruit flies piggyback their way into our homes on fruits and vegetables. By washing fruit and vegetables, you get rid of any eggs that may have been laid on the produce.

3. Keep produce covered or in the refrigerator. If produce must sit on the counter, be sure that it is fully contained and covered.

4. Remove odors immediately.  If something smells, chances are it will attracts fruit flies, too. Clean drains, garbage cans, pet bedding, litter boxes and similar things.

Female fruit flies lay 100 or more eggs per day.  With the possibility of new eggs hatching,  a couple of weeks of diligence will be necessary.  Continue using traps,  depriving them of food and water, and stepping up sanitary procedures to keep  them from breeding and eventually eliminating them from the home.

 

 

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

Plan to pack a healthy school lunch

children at lunchBefore we know it, school will be back in session. We spend a lot of time and money preparing kids for school. School supplies, new clothing, and new backpacks are on sale this time of year. There is another consideration when preparing for a new school year. Your child may be one that takes his or her lunch to school.

This is a great time to stock up on small zipper bags to pack lunches as well as small containers, a small thermos, and plastic silverware. Keeping your kitchen well stocked makes it easier to pack a quick lunch. Consider packing lunches the night before to keep the morning less chaotic.

Many of us consider the start of another school year a good time to start new healthy habits. You may want to try one or more of the following ideas this year.

  1. Plan to spend time with your child discussing likes and dislikes.
  2. Be sure to stock the kitchen with the things you will need to pack a lunch. Consider a new lunch box to make carrying a lunch to school more special.
  3. Plan menus ahead. You can plan menus for the month, plan some special occasion lunches, or plan a list of menus that you can cycle through over time.
  4. Children that help prepare meals often eat better. Allow your child to choose what they want to eat and ask them to help pack the lunch.
  5. Offer healthy foods as choices for lunches. Remember to model healthy choices for your child.
  6. Occasionally pack a surprise for your child. A note, sticker, new pencil can make lunch feel special.
  7. Remember to pack only as much food as your child can eat during the short time he or she has for lunch at school. A half sandwich is best for younger children. Small amounts of raw vegetables or fruit are best.
  8. Check with your school so you know what the rules are for allergens like peanut butter. Protect all the students by following those rules.

Remember to keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Preheat the thermos with hot or cold water before adding your hot or cold food. Separate dry, crisp food from moist food. Let the child assemble the cheese and crackers or sandwich that has a moist filling during lunch. Prepackaged foods in individual servings may be convenient but are often more expensive than making your own prepackaged foods. Package some foods in advance and they will remain safe for days. Think nuts, crackers, or dried foods.

With a little planning, you can make this school year a healthy one for your child. You may even improve your own lunches, too.

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.

More Posts - Website

Washing Produce

Last week we had a question from a food safety educator located in Minnesota. She wondered if it was necessary to wash onions, garlic, and ginger root before using them. She told us that she found information from both schools of thought. Some resources indicated that it was necessary to wash before using while other resources were vague on that point.

We did some research and had the same problem the educator from Minnesota had; we could not find a definitive answer either. We contacted our own food safety specialist and fortunately, she had a contact at the Partnership for Food Safety that knew the answer.

By now, you too, may be wondering if you should wash those vegetables before using. The answer is that you should always wash vegetables before using. Like cantaloupe or watermelon, we cut through the peel or rind when cutting into these foods. That means that any bacteria living on the outside of the food could potentially ride on the knife through the food contaminating the surface.

We often get callers wanting to know what type of soap works best when washing produce. According to the Partnership for Food Safety, running water and the use of a brush are enough to remove bacteria. Patting the produce dry with a clean paper towel will also help remove surface bacteria. The Partnership does not recommend using soaps and bleach on produce and are not something people should eat.

I had not realized that I needed to wash my garlic and onions; I rarely use ginger root. I plan to start washing all my produce before using it.

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.

More Posts - Website

Purslane — Weed or Treat?

PURSLANE (Portulaca oleracea) is a weed in my garden that I curse; it comes uninvited, spreads fast, and keeps on giving.    Purslane grows nearly everywhere in the world and is known as a weed, as I see it, or an edible plant.  Some cultures embrace purslane as a delicious and exceptionally nutritious treat!

Because purslane grows so rapidly and spreads easily, most research has focused on eradication by tillage or chemicals.  The new approach is to eradicate by eating.  While I couldn’t begin to eat against the amount of purslane that pops up in my garden, a little now and then is a bit of garden treat.  The leaves, plucked from the stems, are somewhat crunchy and have a slight lemon taste.  I like it sprinkled on salads, sandwiches, and omelets.  It can also be steamed or used in stir-fries and makes a good thickener for soups or stews because it has a high level of pectin.  Supposedly it also makes a great low-fat pesto; because purslane is so juicy, only a small amount of olive oil is needed.  Purslane is high is Vitamin E and essential omega-3 fatty acids providing more that six times more Vitamin E than spinach and seven times more carotene than carrots.  It is also rich in Vitamin C, magnesium, riboflavin, potassium, and phosphorus.

While it is readily available in my garden,  I have yet to see purslane in the markets in Central Iowa.   If one is so lucky to not have purslane in their garden or yard but are curious to try it, likely there is a neighbor who would be only too happy to share.  Before sampling or eating, make sure that the plant is chemical free and thoroughly washed as it grows close to the ground.  And if this is a new food, don’t over indulge.  Any number of recipes can be find via Google.

Having said all these good things about purslane, I still see it as a weed and struggle to eradicate it by pulling, hoeing or using chemicals.   Using a mechanical tiller is the worst at controlling it as cultivating breaks it apart and, being a succulent, each piece becomes a new plant.  Hoeing is effective only if the root is taken and the plant is removed.  Any soil disturbance raises long-lived seeds near the surface where they easily germinate.  Purslane is not picky about where it grows, loves hot weather, and does not require moisture; but give it tilled soil and a little moisture, and it goes wild. Therefore, the best rule is to get it before it goes to seed; it takes less than three weeks from the time it emerges until it flowers and seeds.  A single plant may produce 240,000 seeds which have germination potential for up to 40 years.   Mulching helps control purslane as mulch suppresses seed germination.  For mulch to be effective, it must be thick enough to block all light to prevent seed germination; 1/2 inch of mulch is recommended.

Purslane . . . weed ’em or eat ’em?   I will be weeding more than eating.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Tangzhong

I enjoy browsing my favorite internet sites on a regular basis to see if there is anything new in the world of “home economics”. While doing that, I recently came across an article talking about how to convert a bread recipe to Tangzhong. I was unfamiliar with that word so had to look into it more fully.

Tangzhong is an Asian technique that makes your yeast bread and rolls soft, fluffy, moist, airy and tender. In addition to affecting the texture of the yeast products you are making, this technique also helps extend the shelf life.

To accomplish this technique you start by pre-cooking a portion of the flour and liquid (water or milk) very briefly and letting it cool to room temperature before adding to the rest of the ingredients in your recipe. This slurry/pudding/roux type mixture helps the starches in the flour absorb more water. Flour can absorb twice as much hot liquid as cold so pre-cooking makes a big difference here. The flour/liquid mixture also creates structure which helps the bread be able to hold on to the extra liquid.

In order to use Tangzhong, you want the hydration in your yeast bread/roll recipe to be 75%. That means the liquid should equal 75% of the weight of the flour. Before I started doing the math on my favorite recipes, I decided to find a recipe that was already based on the Tangzhong method. If you are looking for a softer yeast roll, I hope you will give it a try.

 

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.

More Posts

Poke Bowls

We had friends just return from Hawaii who were raving about the Poke Bowls they enjoyed there. I had never heard of them but they piqued my curiosity enough to do a little research on them.

Poke (pronounced po-kay) is a sushi-like raw seafood salad. Poke is a Hawaiian verb meaning to slice or cut – which is what you do to the fish. Poke bowls were created in the Hawaiian Islands with a Japanese influence. The most popular are made with ahi tuna or octopus but you can use any fresh-caught fish or seafood you enjoy. If you do not care for eating raw fish or don’t enjoy it’s texture, you can certainly grill the fish/seafood you are using. They are a light and healthy meal and can be made low carb, gluten-free, and grain-free. They are also a great source of protein.

Poke bowls have been in Hawaii since the 1970’s and became popular on the mainland six or seven years ago. You can find them many places today including restaurants that only serve poke, poke bars in grocery stores, food trucks and you can buy prepackaged poke bowls  at the grocery store to take home like the one pictured. Poke bowls are easy to make at home as well. Many people start with a base of sushi rice, cauliflower rice, or lettuce. The poke is placed on top of that containing the fish, some onions (Vidalia or green onions work well, soy sauce and sesame oil (or tamari) along with some spice like Sriracha sauce. On top of the poke most add raw vegetables and slices of avocado.

The National Restaurant Association named poke a hot trend last year. It may be a refreshing and healthy choice for lunch or dinner on some of these hot Summer days. Enjoy!

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.

More Posts

Grilling Fruit

Summer and grilling just seem to go together at my house. Typically it is meat we are grilling but I have recently been interested in branching out to grilling fruit to complement the meat or use as a side or dessert.

As I was researching grilling fruit I was amazed at how many fruits lend themselves to be grilled. Peaches, melons, pineapple, pears, avocado, bananas, figs, grapes, watermelon and mango are all recommended. The key is to use fruits that are firm and barely ripe. You will want to grill them right before they are considered ripe enough to eat.

Grilling fruits intensifies their flavor by caramelizing the natural sugars. Juicy fruits will get even juicier and the grill marks make the fruit look very appealing. To maintain structure, cut the fruit into large chunks, slices, or wheels. If you are grilling smaller fruits, put them on a skewer so they don’t fall through the grates.

To prepare the grill for grilling fruit, preheat it to medium high for at least 10 minutes. Scrape and oil the grates to prevent sticking. Using a neutral tasting oil that is suitable for high heat is best so it does not affect the taste of the fruit. You may oil the fruit, if you wish, to also help prevent sticking but most people find they get better grill marks on the fruit without oiling the fruit itself. You can also sprinkle a spice on the cut fruit before you grill it if you want to. Many people recommend sprinkling white or brown sugar on the cut surface to help with the caramelization.

When grilling your fruit it is important to let it sear before trying to turn it to help prevent sticking. A general rule of thumb is to let the fruit sear for three minutes, flip it, then let it cook another one to three minutes more. If the fruit seems to be sticking before you turn it for the first time let it sear for a little bit longer and it should release. Denser fruit takes longer to grill  i.e. pineapple will take longer than peaches. You can put the lid on the grill to help keep the heat in if you wish. Check the fruit every few minutes to prevent overcooking. Your goal is for the fruit to be hot in the middle with beautiful grill marks on it.

Grilled fruit is delicious by itself but pairs nicely with ice cream and/or whipped cream. I’m looking forward to experimenting with grilling some fruits as more and more fruits are coming into their season.

 

Marcia Steed

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

More Posts

Watermelon

When I remember eating watermelon as a child in suburban Chicago, I remember it as a rare treat. Thinking back, I can only remember eating watermelon in a thick, flat slice. It was always in the shape of half a watermelon.

I think that we see watermelon in the store almost year-round these days. I know that I have eaten watermelon in lots of different shapes. Sometimes scooped out with a melon baller, sometimes cubes, or small triangular slices. Watermelon is one of my husband’s favorite treats and I like to buy at least a half melon and cut it up so it is easy to grab a bit and enjoy it any time.

Here are two of my favorite ways to cut watermelon. One reason that they are my favorite methods is that they are quick and the other reason is that it is easy to enjoy a quick bite between meals.

The first method is also a great way to cut a melon for a picnic or pot luck dinner. This method leaves a bit of the watermelon rind on the outside of the slice, thus keeping your hands from becoming too sticky.

Place the cut side of the melon down and cut slices from stem end to blossom end roughly an inch apart.

Next cut slices perpendicular the first slices, also about an inch apart.

 

Now you have watermelon sticks that are easy to serve and easy to eat.

 

 

 

 

 

The second method is nearly as easy. In this method, you will start with a quarter of a watermelon. Using a large knife simply cut between the melon flesh and the rind. Start on one side and then move to the other side. The object is to free all the melon flesh from the rind. Do not worry that you will not get every bit of usable melon. You can add that to your cubes when you are finished.

 

 

Next cut slices from blossom to stem end about an inch apart. Do this on the flat side. Flip to the other flat side and repeat the process. Then slice down through the melon from top edge to rind. You can now dump out the cubes. Feel free to clean up the rind if you find you have left more melon there than you like.

 

 

Enjoy.

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.

More Posts - Website

Celebrating Iced Tea Safely

June is National Iced Tea Month!  I didn’t know we celebrated iced tea nationally but after reading that iced tea makes up 85% of all tea consumed in the U.S., I concur that Iced Tea should be celebrated.   Further, I learned that iced tea was born in America.  Wikipedia relates that iced tea started to appear as a novelty in the U.S. during the 1860s.  (Prior to that, very little tea was consumed as it was thought to be unpatriotic after the Revolutionary War.)  By 1870, iced tea was quite widespread as it was available on hotel and railroad station menus.  Its popularity increased quickly after being introduced at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis by Richard Blechynden.

Iced tea is my ‘go to’ summer beverage as an alternative to soda.  With the popularity of iced tea, we now have a large assortment of teas to use to make our cherished iced tea.  While some manufacturers have developed specific blends or formulations for iced tea, just about any tea can be enjoyed cold.  Until recently, iced tea was made by either brewing with hot water or brewing with the sun.  For years, I used the natural rays of the sun to make sun tea as the mild heat of the sun seemed to enhance the flavor of the tea and cut down on the tannins.  Well, no more!  Since 2011, the Centers for Disease Control have highly discouraged making sun tea as it is the perfect medium for bacteria growth.  Sun tea gets warm enough to brew tea, but it does not get hot enough to kill a ropy bacteria called Alcaligenes viscolactis that may be present in the water or in the tea or herb leaves.  Ropy bacteria is commonly found in soil and water.  If tea containing the bacteria is consumed, it has the potential to cause abdominal infections and illness.

The Centers for Disease Control and the National Tea Association recommend the following for brewing tea:

Brew tea by steeping tea at 195 degrees F for three to five minutes. Some tea drinkers complain that when tea is brewed with hot water, the tea becomes cloudy. The cause of the cloudiness may be due to tannins from the tea being released into the solution when the tea is cooled too rapidly or by chemicals or minerals in the water supply. One way to avoid cloudiness due to the tannins is to gradually bring the temperature of the steeped tea down with cool water before refrigerating or adding ice.  If chemicals in the water are causing the cloudiness, let the water sit for several hours to evaporate the chlorine.  Tap water containing minerals may need to be replaced with distilled or reverse osmosis water to eliminate the problem.  While cloudy iced tea may not be desirable, it is not a health risk.

Tea can also be brewed safely in the refrigerator by putting tea in cold water for six hours to overnight depending on the strength of the tea desired.  It can also be made more quickly with the Cold Brew formulations now available.

One should only brew enough tea to be consumed within a few hours.  When tea is not in use, it should be refrigerated.  If you use an iced tea maker, be sure to wash, rinse and sanitize the equipment regularly.

So get out your tall glasses and ice cubes and celebrate the warm weather by pouring yourself a safely home-brewed glass of iced tea be it plain, sweetened, flavored, or spiked.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ice tea certainly offers a healthier alternative to soda which is our country’s #1 beverage of choice.

 

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

AnswerLine

Subscribe to AnswerLine Blog

Enter your email address:

Connect with us!

AnswerLine's Facebook page AnswerLine's Twitter account AnswerLine's Pinterest page
Email: answer@iastate.edu
Phone: (Monday-Friday, 9 am-noon; 1-4 pm)
 1-800-262-3804 (in Iowa)
 1-800-854-1678 (in Minnesota)
 1-888-393-6336 (in South Dakota)

Archives

Categories