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Electric Pressure Cookers

instant-pot

Recently one of AnswerLine’s Facebook followers asked about electric pressure cookers and Instant Pot.  Not knowing much about either myself, I promised to do some research and share what I learned.  This is a timely question as Electric Programmable Pressure Cookers (EPPCs) have increased in popularity in recent years and Consumer Reports has included an electric pressure cooker in its Holiday Gifts for the Family Chef  article. With anything new, there comes lots of questions:  are EPPCs safe, is pressure cooked food nutritious, does cost equate quality, and are these cookers/pots all they are cracked up to be? The noted promise of an EPPC is to save you time so you can eat well.  So if you are thinking about putting an electric pressure cooker on your holiday list, here are some things you will want to know.

Pressure cookers have long been noted to decrease cooking time, reduce energy consumption, and retain nutrient quality equal to or higher than that of foods cooked by other methods.  In today’s world, the consumer has a wide choice of pressure cookers ranging from the conventional stovetop pot to the EPPCs known as the Third Generation of pressure cookers which are safer and easier to use with the big advantage of convenience over stovetop models—you don’t have to watch the pot!  A Cook’s Illustrated article points out some disadvantages of EPPCs to stove top models which included capacity, non-stick coatings, inadequate handles, weaker heating elements, and storage issues.

Nearly all EPPCs these days are multi-cookers that include slow-cooking, searing, sautéing, simmering, steaming, yogurt making, and warming functions.  An Instant Pot is simply one of many multi-cookers designed to replace a slow cooker, EPPC, rice cooker, steamer, yogurt maker, sauté/browning pan, and warming pot.   These cookers may be touted as “6 in 1” or “7 in 1” which really mean very little.  The multi-cooker that does what you want it to do is the most important consideration.  While there are many websites that provide information and/or recommendations on EPPCs or multi-cookers, Utah State University Extension tested five different cookers and compared several consumer considerations including safety features, ease of operation, cleaning, and special features.  Based on their tests, the following features were deemed the most important to consider before purchasing an EPCC:

  1. Look for a safety valve that locks the appliance while still under pressure.
  2. A spring-loaded venting system (quick-release vent) delivers the best and most consistent performance.
  3. Look for a pressure setting of 10psi or above.
  4. Detailed trouble shooting/safety sections and thorough instructions on use and care in the User’s Manuel is a must.

Last, but not least, I must address the difference between a pressure cooker whether it is a stove top  model, an EPPC, or a multi-cooker AND a pressure canner.  A pressure cooker is not a pressure canner and should NEVER be used for canning.  Often, the two are used interchangeably in conversation and I want to make it clear that they are NOT!  A pressure canner is designed to CAN  low-acid foods for storage in canning jars at a temperature higher than boiling water.  Pressure cookers are designed to cook everyday foods and as such heat up and cool too quickly to adequately process canned food safely.  Articles by Oregon State University Extension Service, Michigan State University Extension, and the National Center for Home Food Preseration provide great and detailed information on the difference between pressure cookers and canners and why cookers cannot be used as canners.

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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Tips for Thanksgiving

Turkey DinnerAs Thanksgiving approaches, the majority of our calls are about preparing for the holiday. So many people are stressed over preparing a big meal and having a large group over for Thanksgiving dinner.  It seems that in our busy everyday lives, we spend less time preparing food and more time ordering food from restaurants.

Preparing the holiday meal does not need to be overwhelming. The tradition in many families these days is more of a pot luck style; different family members contribute a dish or two.  Even if you must prepare the entire meal, there are many ways to make it easier.

Remember that many foods can be prepared and frozen a week or two before the big day. Cooling the food rapidly and wrapping it properly will ensure top quality food.  Make sure that you use containers or wraps designed for the freezer.  Careful packaging will eliminate the formation of ice crystals on the product.  Too much air inside the wrapping can also lower the quality of the food.

You may not be aware, but it is possible to make a pumpkin pie and freeze it unbaked.  Simply baking the pie on Thanksgiving or even the night before will eliminate the messy and time consuming process yet yield a fresh baked pie for the holiday.

RollsBaked goods that are lower in moisture freeze well and maintain their quality well. Consider making a batch of rolls now and freezing them.

Many foods can be prepared early. One of the AnswerLine staff members cooks her turkey the day before Thanksgiving and cuts the meat off of the bones. She lays the meat in a pan and covers it with broth; the meat is tender and moist on Thanksgiving and the cleanup is minimal.  Salads are often a great choice for early preparation.  Ingredients for salads or other dishes can be prepped and measured in advance and then combined on Thanksgiving or the evening before.

However, some foods will not be safe if prepared early. Preparing stuffing in advance and then putting the stuffing inside the turkey is risky as the time between preparing and baking would be long enough to allow bacterial growth.  For the same reason, potatoes should not be peeled ahead of time and cooled overnight before cooking.

House cleaning, table setting, and planning are steps that work well in advance. Making a master check list of tasks to be done and times to begin cooking foods will help destress the holiday.  And it will allow you to easily assign tasks to helpful family members.

Remember that we are here for you in the days before Thanksgiving. Give us a call and we can help you with tips and short cuts.  We can also help you calculate the amount of food you will need to purchase.  For your convenience, we will remain open over the noon hour on the three days before Thanksgiving.

We look forward to visiting with you and answering your questions.

 

 

 

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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Preserving Pumpkin Safely

pie-pumpkin1Its fall and time to visit your local pumpkin farm to get pumpkins and gourds to decorate your house. Carving pumpkins and roasting the seeds is a tradition for many families including ours.  While you are there getting jack-o-lanterns why not get a pie pumpkin as well.  These are the pumpkins grown for use in pies, breads and bars.  They are sweeter and have less water in them than the traditional carving pumpkins which tend to have a stringy flesh.

If you are cooking a pie pumpkin this year remember that pumpkin puree cannot be safely canned at home.  The best way to preserve puree would be to freeze it.  To freeze simply wash the pumpkin and cut into cooking size pieces and remove the seeds.  It can be cooked in boiling water, in steam, in the oven or in a pressure cooker.  Cook until soft then remove pulp from rind and mash the pulp.  Place the pumpkin puree bowl in another bowl filled with cold water and stir occasionally till cool. Package in freezer containers in the size you want to use (2 cups equals 1 can).  Remember to thaw it in the refrigerator when you are ready to use it.

If you would prefer to pressure can pumpkin it can only be done in cubes and in a pressure canner.  The steps to can cubed pumpkin are to first wash and remove the seeds.  Next cut the pumpkin into 1 inch wide slices.  Then peel and cut the flesh into 1 inch cubes.  Blanch in boiling water for 2 minutes.  Fill the jars with the cubes and cover with the cooking liquid leaving 1 inch headspace.  Process according to your altitude using this chart from The National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Pumpkin can be dried or made into fruit leather. To dry cut strips no more than one inch wide by 1/8 inch thick.  Steam the strips over boiling water for 3 minutes then dip in cold water to stop the heating process.  Drain well then dehydrate in a food dehydrator until brittle.  For making pumpkin fruit leather use pumpkin puree and spices with this recipe from The National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Be sure to follow safe preservation methods when dealing with pumpkin. Using safe freezing and canning methods will allow you to enjoy your pumpkin all winter!

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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Successfully Freezing Homemade Soup

slow-cooker-pork-chili_0There’s nothing like homemade soups and stews to enjoy during the fall and winter months. Soups and stews are also great ‘prepare ahead’ foods to freeze and enjoy at a later time when a quick meal is needed, relieve stress during the holidays, or share with elderly parents, neighbors, or college students.  While freezing is a great convenience, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Recipe.  Freezing will not improve the texture, flavor, or quality of food. It simply preserves food quality by stopping microbial growth.  Which brings us to the question, “will all soups freeze satisfactorily to assure a good product later?”  Most soup recipes can be used for freezing but one should check the listing at the National Center for Home Food Preservation for ingredients that do not freeze successfully.  Vegetable and meat based soups generally freeze very well; however, potatoes and pasta may need special consideration.    Joy of Cooking advises to add freshly cooked potatoes or pasta just before serving if a soup or chowder calls for such OR to undercook the potatoes/pasta if they will be part of the frozen soup.   Dairy-based soups and chowders can be frozen, too, but the outcome is not always as predictable as they tend to separate slightly when thawed and reheated.   This can typically be fixed by whisking in a little additional milk or cream or by stabilizing the cream with a slurry of arrowroot or potato power and water.  An immersion blender can be used to mix together a dairy-based soup that has separated. Using a modified starch suitable for low temperatures such as ThermFlow® or tapioca flour will help prevent separation of a thickened soup; Joy of Cooking suggests substituting 1 tablespoon tapioca flour for 2 ½ tablespoons all-purpose flour for 1 cup liquid.
  • Cooling.  After preparing your soup, it must be cooled quickly to prevent a foodborne illness. Soup should cool from 140 degrees to 70 degrees in two hours or less and from 70 degrees to 40 degrees in four hours or less.  The University of Minnesota (Cooling Soup Safely) offers some great tips to cool soup safely such as placing the kettle in an ice bath, using shallow pans, dividing into smaller batches, and stirring to hasten cooling.   Regardless of method used, it’s most important to get the soup cooled by whatever method works best for you to get the temperature down as quickly as possible.
  • Packaging.  Once the soup is cooled, packaging appropriately becomes the next step.  How you intend to use the soup later, will dictate how you will package it.  If you want to freeze a large quantity, freezer bags with a zipper lock work very well and save space in your freezer because they are stackable after they have been laid flat and had time to freeze solid.  For individual servings, smaller freezer bags can be used.  Some of the plastic containers made by Ziplock® or Rubbermaid® work very well, too.  These kind of containers come in all shapes and sizes, each with a unique ability to seal, lock, stack, nest and are sturdy enough to travel with ease which is especially good if the soup is to be transported to and used by an older adult or college student. ½ – 1 cup is considered a snack size portion and 2 cups is a meal portion.
  • Freezing.  Always remove as much air as possible as you close the bag or container and leave ½ inch of headspace for pint-size- and 1 inch for quart-size-containers.  Clearly label each package with the name of the food, ingredients, packaging date, and any special instructions.  This information can quickly be typed and printed on mailing labels and attached to the individual packages.   Prepared packages or containers should be placed in the coldest part of the freezer allowing for good air circulation around each container.  After the product is fully frozen, stack to save space.  Soups containing starches or starchy vegetables should be placed in the back of the freezer where the temperature remains more constant to prevent slight thawing allowing starchy ingredients to absorb moisture and get mushy.
  • Defrosting and Reheating. To retain the best flavor, dairy-based soups should be consumed within two months of freezing and broth-based within three months.  Soups kept longer than these suggested times are still safe to eat but the flavor begins to fade along with some freezer burn.  Soups should be thawed in the refrigerator overnight; or if it is defrosted in the microwave oven, it should be heated and eaten immediately.  Pour the defrosted soup into a saucepan to reheat on the stove top; heat to boiling on low heat gently stirring until it heats through. Or pour soup into a microwave-safe dish to reheat in the microwave, again stirring occasionally to heat more evenly.  If your recipe calls for the addition of cheese just before serving, omit that prior to freezing and add during reheating.  Even though you can freeze cheese on its own, it reheats at a different rate than the soup contents.

I hope you’ll enjoy having homemade soup on hand for a quick meal or to share as much as I do.

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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Storing caramel apples

carmel-applesYou can buy caramel apples year round these days but what fun to make yourself and how delicious they are this time of year when such a wide variety of apples are so plentiful.

When you make them keep in mind caramel has a low amount of water and apples are acidic so neither are normally breeding grounds for Listeria but piercing an apple with a dipping stick causes a bit of apple juice to leak out and become trapped under a layer of caramel. This creates an environment that aids the growth of Listeria already present on the apple’s surface.

Listeria growth occurs more quickly when a caramel apple is stored at room temperature compared to refrigeration. Caramel apples should stay fresh up to one week if refrigerated.

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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Why did my tomatoes separate in the jar?

tomato-picture

If you have seen separation in your home canned tomatoes, you may be wondering just what causes this to happen. Heating the product before putting it in the jar; otherwise known as a hot pack can help prevent this separation.

Separation in canned tomato products is not unsafe. It merely reflects the action of enzymes in tomatoes that have been cut and allowed to sit at room temperature. The enzymes that naturally occur will begin to break down pectin in the tomatoes.  This breakdown results in a yellow red tinted liquid that can appear in either the top or bottom of the jar.  In tomato juices, a quick shake of the jar will make the layer disappear.  The layers will reappear after the contents of the jar resettle.  In canned whole tomatoes, the separation cannot be dispersed by shaking the jar.  You can safely use both the tomato layer and the liquid layer while making other foods like spaghetti sauce or chili but it is a bit unappealing in the jar.

Be sure to follow the directions for the hot pack carefully as overheating the tomatoes can also cause separation of the solids and liquids. Our favorite recipe for canning tomatoes is from the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Enjoy the rest of tomato season!

 

 

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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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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Salsa Time!

It’s salsa time. We are beginning to get questions about making salsa so I thought it might be time to remind people of the rules for making salsa.

First of all, if you have a salsa recipe that has been in the family for years or if you love to experiment and develop new recipes, make all the salsa you want. Just don’t plan to process it in the boiling water bath canner and store it on the shelf.  These salsas can only be stored in the refrigerator (for 5-7 days) or in the freezer (for 1-2 months).  The texture of the frozen and then thawed salsa will be similar to canned salsa but you won’t have the risk of eating an unsafe product.

1368801833383Always, and I can’t say this enough, always choose and use a tested recipe for home preserved salsa. That means look at Preserve the taste of Summer publications, recipes from the National Center for Home Food Preservation, the USDA canning guide, or the Ball Blue Books for a safe tested recipe.  These recipes have been tested to ensure that there is enough acidity to balance the amount of low acid vegetables in salsa.  The onions, peppers, garlic, and tomatoes are low in acid so they must be combined with a quantity of acid to make a mixture that is safe to process in the boiling water bath canner.   If there is not enough acid in the salsa, the botulism bacteria can grow.

When callers ask how long a salsa should be processed, how long it should be processed in a pressure canner, or the processing time for quart jars of salsa; we know that the caller is likely not using a tested recipe. Since salsa is not heated before eating it, the salsa must be unquestionably safe.  Using a tested recipe and following it without changing the recipe is the only way to guarantee safety.

Until a year ago, you could not use much creativity when making salsa. You could vary the type of peppers but not the total quantity of peppers in a recipe.  So, you could make a mild or fiery hot salsa by using either bell peppers or ghost peppers.  Now the National Center for Home Food Preservation has a choice salsa recipe that allows a bit of creativity when you make salsa.

Please don’t hesitate to contact us with any salsa questions.

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.

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No No Cookie Dough!

ecoli-1184px

picture courtesy of CDC

With the recent recall of some Gold Medal flours, it is more important than ever to NOT eat any raw products made with flour. The reason for the recall is a multistate outbreak of E.coli 0121.

E.coli 0121 is eliminated by heat through baking, frying, sautéing or boiling products made with flour. All surfaces, hands and utensils should be properly cleaned after contact with flour or dough.

Some E.coli strains are harmless but E.coli 0121 is a potentially deadly bacterium that can cause bloody diarrhea and dehydration. Seniors, the very young, and persons with compromised immune systems are the most susceptible to food borne illness. Once you have ingested a product with E.coli, it can take anywhere from 2-10 days for symptoms to appear. In addition to the diarrhea and dehydration, abdominal pain and vomiting may also be present. Usually there is little or no fever.

General Mills continues to collaborate with officials to investigate the outbreak. The Gold Medal flours being recalled are: 13.5 oz Wondra; 2 lb All Purpose; 2 lb Self-Rising; 10 lb All Purpose; 5 lb All Purpose; 5 lb Self Rising; 4.25 lb All Purpose; 5 lb Unbleached; 10 lb All Purpose Flour-Banded Pack; and 2 lb Signature Kitchens All Purpose Flour Enriched Bleached. If you have specific questions about your product being safe, you can check online at the General Mills or FDA websites or call us at AnswerLine.

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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Getting Your Groceries Home Safely

As the weather gets warmer it is always a good idea to review safe food handling when shopping and bringing foods home from the grocery store. I wanted to share with you some tips to make sure your foods are handled correctly both for food safety and for best quality.

Here are some things to think about at the grocery store:

  • Look over any fresh produce you are interested in purchasing. Make sure they are not bruised or soft. If you are purchasing precut fruits or vegetables only buy if they have been refrigerated.
  • Do not buy any canned goods that are dented, leaking, bulging or rusty. Many stores sell dented cans at a discounted price but there is a risk of the food in the can being contaminated so do NOT buy those!
  • Keep foods separated in your grocery cart. Raw meats, seafood, and poultry could cause cross-contamination if their juice comes in contact with other foods you are purchasing. Make sure that meats are bagged separately when checking out.
  • Look at the dates on the foods. “Sell by” is a date the store should sell the product by.  “Best If Used By” means the manufacturer says the product will remain at peak quality until this date. It is not a safety date. “Use by” means the product should be eaten or frozen by this date.
  • Put the refrigerated and frozen items in your cart last, so they don’t have time to warm up when shopping. Many times the grocery store is where I see friends and food can warm up quickly when it is sitting in a grocery cart while you are talking!
  • If you have hot foods have them put in a double paper bags to maintain their temperature.

So we have handled the food safely at the grocery store now we need to safely transfer it home!

  • Make sure that the grocery store is your last stop. Run your other errands before you get your groceries. The key to all perishable foods is to refrigerate within 2 hours.
  • Put your perishable foods in the coldest part of your car. This is not necessarily your trunk unless it is open to the back seats. If your travel time home is more than a half hour think about bringing a cooler along to store your refrigerated and frozen foods. If the weather is above 90° F. food needs to be refrigerated within 1 hour.
  • Unload your car as soon as you get home. Don’t get distracted! Put the perishable foods away first.

Following these tips will help to keep the food you purchase safe and will prevent food waste and illness.

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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