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It’s time to look for safe, tested canning recipes.

Seed catalogs are arriving at my house daily. It may seem a bit early to be thinking this much about gardening, but it sure makes spring seem closer when I do.  As I look at options for planting crops in my garden, I also think about what kind of food I would like to have on hand next winter.  If I want lots of home preserved tomatoes or pickles, I know that I will need to be planting several varieties of tomatoes and cucumbers.  This preparation extends to preparing my canner and even more important, looking at the source of my recipes to ensure that they are safe and tested recipes.

It can be tempting to want to replicate foods we remember mom or other relatives preserved when we were young. It is SO important to use only recipes that were scientifically tested to ensure a safe product.  This is a great time of year to look over old family recipes and tested recipes to see if you can find a tested recipe that will replicate that taste from long ago.

We have some great resources for tested recipes. Here are a few of our resources.

  1. The National Center for Home Food Preservation. This resource from the University of Georgia actually tests recipes and produces both a cookbook (So Easy to Preserve) and a website. Everything you see in either resource is guaranteed to be safe—and delicious.
  2. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach has Preserve the Taste of Summer publications. We also teach canning classes and have an on-line class for beginning canners.
  3. University of Minnesota. Both tested recipes and on-line instruction are available on their website.
  4. South Dakota State University. This information is also available on their website.
  5. Ball Blue Book and Complete Book of Home Preserving. Both recipe books are available at stores that carry canning supplies. Both versions were updated in 2016. They also have recipes available on their webpage.

Call us at AnswerLine or email us if you have a recipe that is hard to find and we will check to see if we can find a tested recipe that is similar to your old family recipe. Enjoy dreaming of spring; we are doing that 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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Ham Varieties

ham-2 I, like many of you I am sure, plan to make a ham over the Christmas holiday. While visiting with my son about the menu he said he thought hams were so confusing because you can purchase so many types. They can be fresh, cook-before-eating, cooked, picnic, and country types. He makes a very good point so I decided to do some research and try to minimize the confusion.

Fresh ham is uncured leg of pork. The label will have the term “fresh” on it somewhere which indicates it is not cured. Fresh hams must reach a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees F before removing from an oven you have set no lower than 325 degrees F. For safety and quality, allow ham to rest for at least three minutes after removing it from the oven before carving or consuming.

Cured ham is leg meat that has been dry- or wet-cured. It is labeled according to the amount of water added to the ham during the curing process. Wet, or brine, curing is the most common and popular. It involves injecting a brine, or curing solution, into fresh meat. The solution contains water, salt, sugar, and spices. Smoke flavoring may also be injected with the solution.ham

Wet-cured hams are typically available in three different types:

1 ~ Ham with natural juices. This ham has a velvety texture and attractive appearance due to little water added during the curing process. It is a popular choice for holiday meals.

2 ~ Ham with water added. This is a good choice for steaks, thin-slicing, and shaving due to retaining more water during the curing process than ham with natural juices.

3 ~ Ham and water product. This ham has the most water added, is a good choice for ham that’s intended to be served cold, and is usually found at a deli counter.

Country-style, also known as old-fashioned or Southern-style, ham is dry cured and contains no added water. In dry curing a mixture of salt and spices is rubbed onto the fresh meat. This process produces an extremely salty product. Typically it is served in small portions, very thinly sliced, like prosciutto. Dry-cured hams may also be smoked. All varieties of cured ham can be purchased either boneless or bone-in. The usual color for cured ham is deep rose or pink while fresh ham has the pale pink or beige color of a fresh pork roast.

I hope this has helped diminish some of the confusion surrounding the different kinds of ham available. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas!

 

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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Make your own eggnog!

eggnog

 

If you are looking for something fun and easy to bring to a holiday party this year, consider making up a batch of eggnog. It isn’t difficult to make but you MUST not use raw, unpasteurized eggs in your eggnog.  Uncooked eggs could harbor the salmonella bacteria. Salmonella enteritidis is an unusual and problematic strain of salmonella that has been found in the ovaries of infected laying hens.  Because the hens transmit the organism to the egg yolk before the shell forms, we can no longer assume that a clean, uncracked egg is safe to eat.  Therefore, we MUST cook eggs before eating them or use pasteurized eggs. You may want to buy pasteurized eggs to make your eggnog.

Eggnog does have the potential to be hazardous if it is made from scratch using unpasteurized eggs. Purchased eggnog must be pasteurized before it is sold; this ensures the safety of the product.   Pasteurization will kill the Salmonella bacteria but it will not affect the color, flavor, nutrition of the eggnog.

 

 

Cooked Eggnog (I)

4 cups milk                                         4 tablespoons honey

4 whole eggs or egg yolks                              1 teaspoon vanilla or grated nutmeg

Heat milk and honey to just below the boiling point; remember to use moderate heat. Beat eggs with wire whisk. Add eggs in a slow stream to hot milk while beating constantly with wire whisk.  As soon as all the egg has been added, remove from heat, cool and chill.  Add vanilla and grated nutmeg. Makes 4-6 servings.

 

Cooked Eggnog (II) a variation of cooked custard

1 1/2 cups milk                                                grated nutmeg

4 large egg yolks                                             3/4 cup light cream

1/2 cup sugar                                       grated zest of half a lemon and half an orange

Combine egg yolks and sugar in 3-quart mixing bowl and beat with electric mixer or wire whip for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the mixture turns a pale yellow and becomes very thick and heavy. Pour milk into heavy 1 1/2 to 2-quart saucepan and heat over low heat until it just begins to simmer.  Pour milk, a few tablespoons at a time, into egg yolk mixture, beating constantly.  When about half the milk is gone, add the remainder.  Pour mixture into saucepan and heat on medium, beating constantly with a whip until mixture thickens.  Remove custard from the heat, stir in grated zests, nutmeg, and light cream. Cover and let stand in the refrigerator for 24 hours to allow the flavors to blend, and then strain (to remove zests) into a pitcher.  Makes 4 servings.

 

Caution: Heat custard sauce just until it is thickened. If the sauce is overheated (simmered) the yolks will scramble and the sauce will be lumpy.

Enjoy some eggnog at your next holiday get together.

 

 

 

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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Holiday Baking Ingredients

yeastI know many of you have already started or are thinking about starting your Holiday baking. It’s a good time to check the expiration dates or test some of your baking supplies to make sure they are still potent and will give you the desired results in your final baked products. Three that are important to check are baking soda, baking powder, and yeast.

     Baking soda should be good about 6 months for best quality. To test yours, add 1 teaspoon of baking soda to 3 tablespoons of vinegar. If the mixture bubbles it is still potent enough to use. There is no need to discard expired baking soda as it has many uses for cleaning purposes.

     Baking powder also should be good about 6 months after opening for best quality. It will not spoil but again will not perform as expected if it is old. Baking powder is a combination of baking soda and cream tartar with some cornstarch added in to prevent an immediate reaction. Baking powder is double acting. It reacts first when combined with a liquid then again with heat. To test baking powder for potency, add 1 teaspoon to 1/3 cup hot water. If the mixture bubbles the baking powder is fresh enough to use. If not, it is time to replace it.

     Yeast is fresh 3 or 4 months or until the expiration date on the package. To test your yeast for freshness, add 1 teaspoon sugar to ½ cup warm water in a one cup liquid measure. Stir in 1 envelope (2 and ¼ teaspoons) yeast. Let mixture stand 10 minutes. If the yeast foams up to the ½ cup mark, it will be effective. If you are testing an envelope of yeast right before you are ready to bake you can add this yeast mixture to your product but be sure to decrease the amount of liquid in your recipe by ½ cup.

     Other baking ingredients you may want to check expiration dates on include Crisco and cake mixes. Opened Crisco should be good for about one year. The texture, color or flavor may change but in most cases it will still be safe to consume. If it develops an off odor, flavor, or appearance you need to discard it. Cake mixes should be good for 12-18 months. It is best to use them by the date on the package for peak quality.

     Happy Holiday 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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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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