Royal Icing Made Safe

Cookie decorating is one of the most beloved holiday traditions.  Royal Icing is the traditional icing used for glazing cookies, piping decorations, or assembling the walls of gingerbread houses. It dries and hardens quickly and is easy for nearly anyone to achieve decorating success! Made traditionally from egg whites and powdered (confectioners’) sugar, it is an easy icing to prepare. However, if raw egg whites are used, the icing may be a health risk.

It is a well-known fact that eggs may contain the bacteria, Salmonella Enteritidis (SE), that can cause foodborne illness. Researchers say that if present, the SE is usually found in the yolk, but the possibility of SE in egg whites cannot be ruled out. To eliminate risk and be certain of a safe frosting, raw egg whites should be replaced with lightly cooked egg whites, meringue powder or dried egg whites, or pasteurized egg whites when making Royal Icing.

Lightly Cooked Egg Whites. Use the following method provided by South Dakota State University which can be used for Royal Icing and other frosting recipes calling for raw egg whites. In a heavy saucepan, the top of a double boiler, or a metal bowl placed over water in a saucepan, stir together the egg whites and sugar from the recipe (at least 2 tablespoons sugar per white), water (1 teaspoon per white) and cream of tartar (1/8 teaspoon per each 2 whites). Cook over low heat or simmering water, beating constantly with a portable mixer at low speed, until the whites reach 160° F. Pour into a large bowl. Beat on high speed until the whites stand in soft peaks. Proceed with the recipe. Note that you must use sugar to keep the whites from coagulating too rapidly. Test with a thermometer as there is no visual clue to doneness. If you use an unlined aluminum saucepan, eliminate the cream of tartar or the two will react and create an unattractive gray meringue.

Meringue Powder or Dried Egg Whites. Meringue powder is available in specialty stores wherever cake decorating supplies are sold. Meringue powder is composed of cornstarch, dried egg whites, sugar, citric acid and some stabilizers. It’s perfect for making royal icing. Follow the instructions on the package to rehydrate and use. Dried egg whites are just that, 100 percent powdered egg white; they require no refrigeration. Dried whites are pasteurized by heating to the required safe temperature. Like meringue poweder, the egg white powder can be reconstituted by mixing with water. The reconstituted powder whips like fresh egg white and, because it is pasteurized, can be used safely without cooking or baking.

Pasteurized Egg Whites. Pasteurized egg whites are of two types—pasteurized in-shell eggs or liquid pasteurized egg whites. Pasteurized in-shell eggs are available at some grocery stores. Shells of such eggs are stamped with a red or blue “P” in a circle. Whites of pasteurized shell eggs may appear slightly cloudy compared to fresh eggs. Liquid pasteurized egg whites are found in the refrigerated section of the grocery store in a milk-like carton usually near the regular eggs. According to the FDA, both of these products are safe to consume raw. Use these two products like raw whites in the recipe.

Keep unused icing covered at all times with a damp cloth or tightly wrapped to prevent drying and caking. For longer keeping time, store in the refrigerator for up to three days or freezer for up to three months. In addition to preventing food borne illnesses, refrigeration seems to help with separating. (If separation occurs–yellowish liquid on the bottom—just remix.).

Make sure that your holiday cookies or gingerbread houses bring nothing but joy! Avoid raw egg whites when making your decorating frosting.

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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Holiday Stains

The holidays are here – and unfortunately stains are inevitable!  Whether it is on your tablecloth, carpet or clothing there are ways to get those stains out! 

Follow these simple tips to fight stains with common household.  

  1. Check laundry for stains before washing. Many stains need pretreatment. 
  1. Take care of stains promptly. Fresh stains are much easier to remove than those over 24 hours old. 
  1. Blot up any excess liquid with a clean white cloth or paper towel. 
  1.  Avoid rubbing.  Blot gently to avoid damaging the fabric, taking the color out, spreading the stain. 
  1. Check colorfastness.  Test stain treatment in an inconspicuous spot to ensure it won’t remove the color. 
  1. Inspect wet laundry before drying to be sure a stain has been removed. If a stain is still evident, do not dryer dry. The heat of drying sets the stain making it more permanent. 
  1. Be patient!  Give any product or procedure used time to work.  Further, some stains may require multiple treatments to remove. 
  1. Appropriately treat the stain based on its type.  Different stains require different treatment to remove and prevent setting. 

Stain Types  

  1. Protein Stains.  This includes blood, milk, mud, baby formula, vomit, feces. 

Use COLD water!  Never use hot water first since it will make the stain more difficult to remove or may set the stain. Fresh stains can be removed by soaking or agitating in cold water.  After  soaking in  cold water, the item  can then be washed in warm water with detergent.  If the stain is not removed try soaking again

2. Oil Based Stains.  This includes butter, bacon fat, mayonnaise, automotive oil, collar stains. 

Pretreat the stain with a commercial stain removal product, liquid laundry detergent or liquid dish soap.  Wash in water as hot as the item will tolerate, with detergent. 

3. Tannin Stains.  This includes berries, coffee, tea, fruit juice, alcoholic beverages. 

Do not use natural soap (usually found in bar and flake form or detergents containing natural soap).  Natural soaps make tannin stains more difficult to remove.  Fresh stain can be washed with detergent in hot water, if safe for the fabric.

4. Dye Stains.  This includes Kool-Aid, mustard, dye transfer (from bleeding in the washer), grass, felt tip pens. 

These can be difficult to remove.  First pretreat the stain with detergent and then rinse thoroughly. Try soaking in a dilute solution of all-fabric powdered color safe bleach.  Try fresh bleach if the garment is white.  If using bleach on a white item the stain should come out within 15 minutes if the bleach is fresh. Bleaching for a longer time may weaken the fabric. Then wash in water as hot  as the item will tolerate with detergent. 

5. Combination Stains.  This includes gravy, ketchup, makeup, candle wax, ballpoint ink. 

Remove the oily/waxy portion first by treating with a dry cleaning solvent or stain stick and rinsing the spot in hot water in your sink.  Then rub in liquid laundry detergent on the spot before washing. 

If you don’t know what the stain is, treat with cold water first. Then follow up with a commercial stain remover and wash as directed on the fabric label.  Always follow the label directions on any commercial stain remover used.  Give the product time to work ; if directions say to leave on no longer than 10 minutes, be ready to rinse or wash it within that time frame. 

 Don’t be discouraged if you have a spill over the holidays.  Use the above tips to help you remove unwanted stains.  For additional stain removal help, use our Quick and Easy Stain Removal Guide  or Stain Solutions from the University of Illinois Extension which were both used to provide these great stain removal tips. 

And as always, if you need additional help, give us a call at AnswerLine!  We are here to help! 

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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Homemade Eggnog Made Safe

Eggnog and holidays seem to go hand in hand.  While prepared eggnog is readily available at the supermarket, there is nothing like homemade eggnog.  Since eggs are a main ingredient of homemade eggnog, homemade eggnog has the potential to spoil holiday fun and cause Salmonella poisoning from the use of raw or undercooked eggs.  Salmonella bacteria is a potential risk even when refrigerated eggs with clean, uncracked shells are used.

How to convert a special family eggnog recipe into a safe recipe

Use a cooked egg base.  FoodSafety.gov  recommends a cooked egg base for eggnog. This is especially important if you are serving people at high risk for foodborne infections: young children and pregnant women (non-alcoholic eggnog), older adults, and those with weakened immune systems.  Eggs must be cooked to 160 °F to kill bacteria that may be present such as Salmonella.   A cooked egg base or custard is made by heating half of the the milk and/or cream to almost boiling and ever so slowly adding the beaten egg yolks (or sometimes the whole egg) and sugar (or any sugar substitute).  Continue to cook and stir the mixture gently until an internal temperature of 160 °F is reached.  At this temperature, the mixture will firmly coat a metal spoon and remain separated when a finger is drawn through it. Do not let the mixture go beyond 160 °F as above that temperature, the eggs are likely to curdle.  (If curdling occurs, put the mixture in a blend and blend until smooth.)   Place the mixture in a bowl of  ice water to stop the cooking action and prevent curdling or further curdling and then refrigerate.

Use pasteurized eggs yolks. Eggnog may be safely by using whole, liquid or pasteurized eggs or egg substitutes in place of raw eggs. Pasteurized eggs are found next to regular eggs at the store.  Commercial pasteurization of eggs is a heat process at low temperatures that destroys any Salmonella that might be present without having a noticeable effect on flavor or nutritional content. Even if you are using pasteurized eggs for your eggnog, both the FDA and the USDA recommend starting with a cooked egg base for optimal safety.  When egg substitute products are used, some experimentation might be needed to figure out the right amount to add for the best flavor.

Use alcohol to inhibit bacterial growth.  While alcohol will inhibit bacterial growth, adding alcohol (in amounts recommended by most recipes) will not be sufficient to kill bacteria.  However, if one wants to use alcohol, Cooks Illustrated suggests that 1 1/2 ounces of 80 proof liquor per egg and three weeks of aging in the refrigerator is sufficient to kill bacteria when dairy is omitted until ready to serve. Such was conclusively proven by microbiologists at Rockefeller University where salmonella bacteria was purposely added  to eggnog and analyzed over a three-week period. By the three-week mark, the alcohol had rendered the eggnog completely sterile.

Substitute egg whites.  If a recipe calls for adding beaten egg whites to the hot egg/milk custard, use pasteurized egg whites.  While pasteurized egg whites do not whip to the same volume as raw egg, they are safe.  It has not been proven that raw egg whites are free of Salmonella bacteria; NOR has it been shown that when adding them to the hot milk/egg custard, the custard remains hot enough to kill any bacteria.  Another good substitute is whipping cream whipped to soft peaks added at the time of serving.

Here’s to a safe and worry-free holiday!  Follow these suggestions for your favorite eggnog recipe to ensure everyone can enjoy delicious, creamy homemade eggnog without worry of a foodborne illness.

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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Holiday Exchange and Return Tips

It’s an unavoidable fact of the holiday season—gift returns.  Billions of dollars in gifts are returned each holiday season. Consumers rush back to the store or flock to online retailers to return or exchange gifts that they do not want for a variety of reasons–wrong size, duplicate, don’t like it, can’t use it, defective.

Recent retail news indicates that the traditional return or exchange may not be as easy as it’s been in past years; 60% of retailers are said to be rolling out stricter policies for 2022.  Due to rising transportation and other inflationary costs, companies have been updating their return policies in an effort to curb the costs and hassles of returns. Updates may include a shorter return window, required receipt or proof of purchase, and shipping or restocking fees.

To avoid surprises no matter where you shop, read the fine print or ask questions to familiarize yourself with the return or exchange options before purchase and include a gift receipt with your gifts to reduce hassles for the recipient. Consumer Reports has outlined the current (2022) return guidelines of popular retailers categorizing them as the “best and worst return policies.” 

Make your holiday returns go more smoothly with these tips:
  • Know the retailer’s policies before making a purchase. What is the return policy and how does it work?  Restocking fee?  Cash refunds?  Exchanges only?  Store credit?  Return shipping?  Can online purchase be returned to local store?  Be aware of third-party sellers who may have a different return policy than the retailer (i.e., Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy, eBay, and Newegg). 
  • Understand product warranty. Most electronics and home appliances come with warranties that are to be fulfilled by the manufacturer, not the retailer. How are returns and repairs handled if an item does not work, stops working or needs replacement parts?
  • Keep your receipts and packaging. Most retailers will only accept returns and exchanges with a receipt and in original packaging making it important to keep receipts or give gift receipts. Without a receipt, a retailer may refuse a return or offer store credit at the most recent lowest price of the item. Cash for a returned item is usually only offered with the original receipt and when cash was used at the time of sale.  Original packaging means keeping all tags in place; if the tag includes a price, mark it out or remove at the perforation.  Also, it is best to not open the original package until you are sure you will be keeping the gift.  Personalized gifts are usually nonreturnable.
  • Bring your ID. To avoid holiday return scams, many stores ask to see your ID when you return an item. Some chains use computerized return authorization systems to detect abuse and track your return history. Without a receipt, retailers may deny a return or exchange if history shows you are a frequent returner without receipt.
  • Return or exchange in a timely fashion.  The window for returns or exchanges varies by retailer.  Some retailers are expanding their window while others are shortening it. Time is of the essence for ensuring that the chance to exchange or return an item is not missed.  
  • Practice kindness and patience.  Waiting a few days after the holidays will reduce crowds at the return counter and clerks will be less frazzled.  If you are not satisfied with the way the return or exchange was handled by the clerk, ask to speak to a manager and deal with the problem in a congenial manner—keep your cool!

For additional tips and to protect yourself from holiday scams and theft, visit the BBB Holiday Tips page.

____________________________

Jessica Dickler.  25 November 2022.  Don’t bank on free returns:  60% of retailers roll out stricter policies. CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2022/11/25/retailers-roll-out-stricter-return-policies-ahead-of-the-holidays.html

Gordon, Samantha B.  8 November 2022. Guide to Returning Gifts: Retailers with the Best and Worst Return Policies. Consumer Reports.  https://www.consumerreports.org/returns-refunds-exchanges/guide-to-returning-gifts-a8582928649/

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 Pumpkin and Pecan Pie – Refrigerate or Not?

Whether it’s homemade or store-bought pumpkin or pecan pie, learn if you need to store these pies in the fridge.

The USDA advises that all “egg rich pies” refrigerated after baking and cooling unless it will be served it within two hours of baking.* Pumpkin and pecan pies fall in this category along with custard and meringue pies.  So the short answer is YES—with one exception. 

ALL homemade and bakery pumpkin and pecan pies made with fresh ingredients should be refrigerated.  The reason is that bacteria will grow rapidly when the homemade pie is kept at temperatures between 40° F and 140° F. To prevent foodborne illness, these pies should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours.

The exception is store-bought pies displayed and sold unrefrigerated; these commercially produced pies have shelf-stable ingredients and anti-microbial preservatives added to make them shelf-stable and typically do not need to be refrigerated until cut. Pies of this type have a sell-by date which indicates how long the pie will remain safe to eat stored at room temperature. In general, store-bought pies are safe 2-4 days after the sell-by date if they are refrigerated; it is never wrong to store these pies in the refrigerator once they are brought home. Leftover pieces of these pies should be stored in the refrigerator and used within 2-4 days of the sell-by date. 

If you are unsure of proper storage for a purchased pie, be sure to ask or check the label for storage instructions to make sure it is safe.

Storing Egg-Rich Pies – Cool, Chill, Wrap

Homemade egg-rich pies should be completely cooled after baking before covering and refrigerating to prevent condensation occurring under the wrapping.  Condensation will lead to a soggy crust and perfect conditions for bacteria to breed. A good way to prevent either is to cool the pie completely, place in the refrigerator uncovered until chilled, and then loosely wrap in plastic or place in a pie cover. (Pies that are not completely cooled in two hours may be placed unwrapped in the refrigerator to continue cooling before wrapping.) The same procedure is true for bakery pies made with fresh ingredients; they may be stored in the box or container used by the bakery.

An unrefrigerated store-bought pie, can be stored on the counter per the sell-by date or placed in the refrigerator as soon as you bring it home. You can keep it in the box or container that it was purchased in.

If the pie won’t be served within the safe period (2-4 days), you can easily freeze pumpkin and pecan pie so that it lasts longer. Pie can be frozen whole, half, or in slices.  Properly stored, the pie will maintain at best quality for about 1 to 2 months, but will remain safe beyond that time if kept constantly frozen at 0°F.

The best way to tell if a pie is bad or spoiled is to inspect it visually and by smell.  Discard if there is an off smell or appearance such as mold.

Serving Egg-Rich Pies

According to the FDA, homemade or bakery pumpkin and pecan pie can be left at room temperature for two hours, after which it is in danger of growing harmful bacteria.  This is plenty of time for serving either plated on from a buffet.  If the pie needs to be held longer than two hours, place it on ice to keep it chilled.

While refrigerating pecan and pumpkin pie is important for food safety, it has an added benefit of getting a perfect slice. Remove the pie from the refrigerator a few minutes before serving to let the filling soften a bit; then slice with a sharp serrated knife (drawing for pumpkin, sawing for pecan) for that perfect slice.

Plan your holiday baking or shoping carefully. Keeping egg-rich pies at room temperature could leave it at risk for foodborne illness or spoiling too soon.

__________________________________

*Does Pecan Pie Have to Be Refrigerated?  StillTasty.com. https://www.stilltasty.com/questions/index/163
*Does Pumpkin Pie Have to Be Refrigerated?  StillTasty.com.  https://www.stilltasty.com/questions/index/164

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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Stuffing or Dressing? To Stuff or Not? Which is IT?

Whether you choose to stuff or fill the bird or prepare stuffing outside of the turkey, each preparation is a personal preference or family tradition made with a combination of bread, vegetables, herbs, spices and perhaps a protein, dried fruits, and nuts. The difference between stuffing and dressing depends on how it’s prepared and regional or family traditions. Stuffing refers to filling the cavity, while dressing is a name for stuffing that is cooked separately from poultry, meat, or vegetables and served alongside it, rather than inside it. Which is it in your house?

With Thanksgiving Day just around the corner, November 21 is appropriately designated National Stuffing Day since we are already thinking about the stuffing, filling, or dressing to accompany the Thanksgiving turkey.  However, National Stuffing Day could also be in recognition of stuffing used in pockets of other cuts of meat, fish or vegetables that make excellent vessels for stuffing.

To stuff or not to stuff is the most often asked Thanksgiving turkey question?  The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends cooking the stuffing outside (external) of the bird for optimal safety; therefore, making it a dressing served on the side.  The safety concerns have to do with salmonella and other bacteria, which can come from eggs in the stuffing or from the interior surface of the turkey’s cavity. If the bird is removed from the oven before the stuffing reaches an internal temperature of 165°F, some bacteria could remain alive and make diners sick. 

There are pros and cons to both cooking styles.

In-Bird Stuffing. The primary advantages to an in-bird stuffing are that it is moist, sticky, and has all the flavors of the bird.  To be safe, it must reach an internal temperature of 165ºF, which means the bird is likely to cook longer or to an even higher temperature resulting in a potentially dry bird.  Stuffing cannot be prepared ahead; it must be prepared just before spooning the hot stuffing mixture into the cavity and placed in the oven.  The amount of stuffing in a cavity is limited to 1/2 to 1 cup of prepared stuffing per pound of raw poultry. Aromatics such as celery, onions, apples, oranges, etc must be placed on or around the bird.

Outside the Bird (Dressing).  When the stuffing is cooked outside the turkey, it may be prepared ahead (refrigerated or frozen).  The temperature of the dressing and the turkey can be measured more reliably. The cavity can be filled loosely with aromatics which steam and infuse heighten flavor and some moisture into the turkey. The turkey will also cook faster.  Dressing is the only option for turkeys that are prepared by frying, smoking, grilling or spatchcocking.  Dressing is often criticized as being dry or not-as-moist as stuffing.  This can be remedied with turkey or chicken broth/stock drizzled over the dressing before baking. Dressing can also be prepared in a slow cooker which frees up the oven for the turkey or other foods and tends to be moister and more stuffing like. (NOTE: Never place frozen stuffing or other frozen food in a slow cooker.)  Another benefit of cooking the dressing separately is that larger quantities of it can be made.  And it is also an option to let the dressing become a bit crispy as it is an excellent complement to the savory and juicy turkey and creamy mashed potatoes.

For complete how-to for safely preparing and cooking stuffing or dressing, check out the USDA website, Stuffing and Food Safety.  For all questions related to turkey preparations, check out Let’s Talk Turkey.

Because stuffing is an excellent medium for bacterial growth, it’s important to handle it safely and cook it to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165ºF as measured with a food thermometer whether prepared inside or outside of the cavity. As you plan for your Thanksgiving dinner, make your decision on whether to stuff or not based on safe handling and preparation.

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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STOP! Don’t Wash the Turkey!

Wash your hands, but not the turkey! 

Many consumers think that washing their turkey will remove bacteria and make it safer.  However, it’s virtually impossible to wash bacteria off the bird. Instead, juices that splash during washing can transfer bacteria onto the surfaces of your kitchen, the sink, and other foods and utensils. This is called cross-contamination, which can make you and others very sick.  Washing your hands before and after handling the turkey and its packaging is crucial to avoid spreading harmful bacteria.

Hands should be washed with warm water and soap for 20 seconds.  This simple, but important step can help keep everyone safe from foodborne illness.  If your raw turkey or its juices come in contact with kitchen surfaces, wash the counter tops and sinks with hot, soapy water.  For extra protection, surfaces may be sanitized with a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water.  Make sure to let those areas dry thoroughly.

The only way to destroy bacteria on turkey or any poultry product is to cook it to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F as measured with a food thermometer.  Some chefs prefer to cook to a higher temperature for flavor and texture. Check the turkey’s temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing, and the thickest part of the breast to be sure it has reached a safe temperature will be free of illness-causing bacteria.

Source: Karlsons, Donna. (2017, February 21). To Wash or Not to Wash Your Turkey . . . . United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service.

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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What is May Day?

May Day is celebrated on May 1.  It is an old day of celebration dating back to the Roman Republic.  Over its many years, there have been different meanings, festivities, and representations of May Day. Beginning as a day marked with ceremonies, dances, and feasting, it celebrated the rite of spring.  It also marks the half way point between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solace.  In addition, it has been known as Workers’ Day or International Workers’ Day, a day commemorating the historic struggles and gains made by workers and labors.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, May Day traditions changed to leaving a gift basket filled with flowers or treats at the front door of a neighbor, friend, or loved one.  The giver would leave a basket or cone of treats, ring the doorbell, shout “‘May Basket!” and run away.  In some communities, hanging a May basket on someone’s door was a chance to express romantic interest.  If the recipient caught the giver, he or she was entitled to a kiss.  It has also been celebrated with dancing and singing around a pole laced with streamers or ribbons.  During my grade school days, we made May Day baskets filled with homemade treats, candy, or dandelions to exchange with school mates.

Today, May Day is almost forgotten. The sentiment of the day certainly has a place in modern society as a time to share a random act of kindness and celebrate spring and friendship—an opportunity to pay it forward. Baskets don’t necessarily have to be left at a front door.  Treats can be left for co-workers, teachers, children—anyone—anywhere they will find it. Earlier this spring, I was asked to make a May Basket for a group service project.  The directions were few—any kind of simple homemade basket will do; fill it with flowers, candy, or a baked and wrapped treat.

There are numerous ideas for baskets online—paper cones, styrofoam cups, fabric, tin cans, strawberry baskets—anything goes.  I decided on construction paper strips to craft a woven paper basket like I remembered making so many years ago. 

Since the basket had to be finished ahead of May 1 for distribution, I filled the basket with White Chocolate Strawberry Biscotti.  Compared to most baked goods, biscotti is very shelf-stable and will remain good for several days. Each biscotti slice was individually wrapped in clear plastic wrap and placed in the basket along with the recipe so the recipient would know the ingredients. The collection of baskets for this project will be delivered to service personnel in our community. 

Who says baskets have to be filled with flowers, candy or treats?  Don’t limit yourself.  Use imagination and creativity.  Baskets can be filled with anything appropriate for the recipient.  For example, the homeless may appreciate baskets filled with bath products, socks, non-perishable snacks or gift cards. Baskets for others could be filled with small office supplies, seed packets, cooking utensils, hair accessories, or craft supplies. The ideas are endless.  Add a little treat to brighten someone’s day with a piece of candy, a flower, or a pop of color with a piece of tissue paper.  And if making a basket isn’t for you, maybe buy a cup of coffee for a random stranger and wish them a Happy May Day. Get the kids involved; make it family activity or a youth group project (4-H, Scouts, Church).

So make a basket, ring the doorbell, and run! Spread some kindness! You’ll be glad you did! Happy May Day!

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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Celebrating Spaghetti

January 4 is an unofficial holiday—it’s National Spaghetti Day—a day to celebrate the pasta that is commonly served with sauce, meat balls and Parmesan cheese.  American are great spaghetti lovers.  More than 1.3 million pounds of spaghetti are sold each year in American grocery stores.  If those packages were lined up, they would circle the Earth’s equator nine times.

Pasta is thought to have originated in ancient China being brought to Italy by Marco Polo during the 13th century.  The pasta form known as spaghetti has origins in Italy and Sicily.  “Spaghetto” in Italian means a thin string.  Prior to the industrial revolution, spaghetti was a luxury in Italy. Thomas Jefferson is credited with popularizing macaroni in America but it was the Italian immigrants that brought spaghetti to America.  Originally, 18 inches (50 cm) long, it is most commonly available in 12 inch (30cm) lengths today.

While there are numerous companies that manufacture spaghetti, the oldest pasta company and the biggest pasta factory in the world is Barilla located in Parma, Italy. Though the company manufactures 150 different pasta shapes, spaghetti remains the simplest pasta shape to produce and the Barilla factories produces miles and miles of the stuff every day. Nearly all Barilla pasta sold in the United States is made in Barilla plants located in Ames, IA and Avon, NY. To maintain consistency and quality, the recipe, wheat blend, and machines used in the Ames and Avon plants are the same as used in the Parma factory.

As part of the pasta family, spaghetti, is a fat-free, low sodium food made from hard wheat. More nutrition can easily be added to a meal by using whole grain pasta options.  Gluten-free pasta is also an option to those who cannot tolerate gluten. A plate of spaghetti and meatballs is the epitome of comfort food, but spaghetti is the perfect backdrop for all sorts of toppings and applications such as soups, stir frys, casseroles, and salads.

What is a serving of spaghetti?

When it comes to preparing spaghetti, knowing how much dry spaghetti is needed per serving is always a question. According to the USDA, the proper pasta portion is 2 ounces (56g) of dry pasta per person.  Because 2 ounces (56 g) of pasta is determined by the shape of the pasta, Barilla has charts to help determine the right portion of pasta to use.   For long shapes—spaghetti, angel hair, linguine, vermicelli, and fettuccine, you can measure the right amount using a scale OR use a dime (approximately ½-inch diameter) for thin shapes or a quarter (approximately 1-inch diameter) for thicker shapes. Once a bunch of long pasta equals the diameter of the coin, you should have the recommended 2 ounce serving which will yield approximately 1 cup of cooked pasta.  A pound of pasta is about right for 8 people with the recommended 2 ounces dry per person.

Tips for cooking and serving spaghetti perfectly

  • Salt your water.  Salt raises the temperature of the water so the pasta cooks a bit faster and adds flavor.
  • Use plenty of water and keep it boiling.  4-6 quarts water per pound of pasta is recommended.  Bring the water to a boil before adding pasta and return to a boil after adding pasta Using plenty of water helps prevent sticking and reduces the time it takes for the water to return to a boil when the pasta is added.  Keep the water at a rolling boil during cooking and do not cover.
  • Stir the pasta.  Stirring occasionally encourages even cooking and prevents the strands from sticking together.
  • Cook to al dente or firm to the bite.   Al dente is usually reached within 8-10 minutes of putting the spaghetti into the boiling water.  For recipes with extra cooking time, undercook the pasta by 1/3 of the cooking time.
  • Drain and reserve some pasta water for thinning the sauce if needed. 
  • Plate with a twist and drizzle.  Whether served in a sauce or alone, the key to plating spaghetti is to gently grab a serving of spaghetti with a tongs and give it a twist as it is placed on the plate causing the noodles to twist on themselves and pile upward.  Garnish, if desired, with a drizzle of olive oil and a little grated parmesan cheese.

Here’s to spaghetti and National Spaghetti Day!  Celebrate with a favorite spaghetti dish for dinner or head to your favorite Italian restaurant for a spaghetti entre.  Be sure to post your spaghetti pictures on social media using #NationalSpaghettiDay. Oh, and did you know that you should not break spaghetti? Length is needed to keep the Italian tradition of twirling spaghetti on a fork!

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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Prime Rib – “king” of Holiday Meats

Prime rib is perhaps the “king” of holiday meats. A prime rib roast makes an incredible presentation when it premiers with a well-browned crust encasing a tender, succulent, flavorful, and juicy rosy-pink center. Making your own prime rib may be a little bit scary. After all, it’s an expensive cut of meat; as such, you want it to be absolutely perfect. So what’s the best way to cook it?

Prime rib is not a cut of meat; rather, it is the name given to the preparation of a beef rib roast or ribeye roast. At the market, one would purchase a beef rib roast, ribeye roast, or standing rib roast to make prime rib. Regardless of name, it comes from the 6th through 12th ribs of a beef animal, sandwiched between the chuck and the short loin. Since this muscle is not well used, it yields a tender and deeply marbled roast with outstanding flavor.  The roast is usually covered by a fat cap that varies in thickness which also contributes to flavor and moistness.  

Preferred Doneness Temperature, Not Time Chart


Many people look for a chart that will tell them how long to cook their prime rib by pound. Because prime rib is not an evenly thick or shaped roast, timed cooking per pound is flawed. The best way to cook a rib roast (prime rib) is by temperature, not by time. Therefore, a digital meat thermometer is your best friend and most accurate, foolproof way to gauge the doneness or temperature of meat. To get an accurate reading, insert the meat thermometer into the thickest part of the meat.  Use the chart below to determine the preferred doneness temperature.  Because meat continues to cook after it is removed from heat, the pull from heat temperature should be 5-7⁰F (3-4⁰C) below the preferred temperature to allow for carryover cooking. As the meat rests, some of the heat energy from the outer layers transfers to the center, causing the center to continue to rise in temperature.

Preferred DonenessDegrees FDegrees C
Rare120-129⁰F49-54⁰C
Medium Rare130-134⁰F55-59⁰C
Medium135-144⁰F58-62⁰C
Medium Well145-154⁰F63-67⁰C
Well155-164⁰F68-73⁰C

Methods


While there are recipes and methods for grilling, slow cooking, and pressure cooking a rib roast, the best way to cook prime rib, or a ribeye roast, is by roasting it in the oven, fat side up, to the desired doneness.  Methods for oven roasting vary.  After reviewing numerous recipes for oven-roasted prime rib, it appears there are three different approaches—traditional, reverse-seared, or the 500⁰F/no peek methods.  Which is the best?  See the chart below to compare. (⁰F to ⁰C conversions in footnotes)

StepTraditional MethodReverse-Sear Method500⁰F/No-Peek Method*
1.Season 1-4 days in advanceSeason 1-4 days in advanceSeason 1-4 days in advance
2.Bring roast to room temperatureBring roast to room temperatureBring roast to room temperature
3.Preheat oven to 400-500⁰F (450⁰F most popular)Place roast in pre-heated low-temperature oven (200-275⁰F)Preheat oven to 500⁰F.
4.Sear for 15-20 min (450⁰F oven) in ovenRoast to desired doneness minus carryover cookingSear/roast 5-6 min/lb in oven
5.Reduce heat to 250-325⁰F (325⁰F most popular)Remove from oven, tent and let rest for 20 min.Turn oven off and leave door closed for 2 hrs.
6.Roast to desired temperature, approx. 13-15 min/lb (325⁰F) minus carryover cookingSet oven temperature to max, 500-550⁰FCheck temperature for desired temperature.  If appropriate, remove, slice, and enjoy
7.Remove from oven, tent, and restBrown meat 6-10 min until exterior is browned and crispIf under done, heat oven to 325⁰F and roast until desired temperature is reached
8.Slice and enjoySlice and enjoyIf additional heat and time required, remove from heat at desired temperature, tent and rest.  Slice and enjoy  
ProsTried and true methodEven cooking from edge to centerPredictable serving time
ConsUnpredictable serving timeUnpredictable serving timeOnly works if oven holds heat well

*Other names:  foolproof prime rib, no peek method, 500 degree method, closed oven method, oven off method. 

The Take-Away

  • Seasoning is optional.  Some do, some do not.  Seasoning can be simply salt and cracked pepper or with the addition of garlic or fresh herbs.
  • Most recipes allow the roast to come to room temperature beforehand. This helps the meat cook more evenly throughout. Depending on the size of the roast, allow 1-2 hours. 
  • Bone in or out? Most agree that if the bone is removed, it should still be tied back in for move even roasting.  Removing the bone makes it easier to slice.
  • Tying the roast is important.  When the string is removed after cooking, the roast will hold its shape for a more attractive presentation. Tying also aids in more even cooking. There are numerous online videos that show how such as this one: Prime Rib Prep and Butchers Knot – YouTube.
  • Sear or not to sear?  For some, searing is an important part of roasting a prime rib. Searing kills any possible surface bacteria and provides a Mallard-effect browned and crisp crust. It is also thought that searing helps to hold in the juices but some studies show that searing is not necessary for moistness when the meat is cooked low and slow.  Searing can be done either in a hot oven or a skillet. 
  • A meat thermometer is imperative; a digital thermometer with a probe can be placed in the meat prior to roasting to monitor temperature throughout the roasting process without opening the oven.
  • Most recipes suggest a well-marbled prime rib is at its best when it’s cooked to a minimum of medium rare and no more than medium.  This temperature range allows the fat to soften and render sufficiently to deliver flavor and juiciness. The pink color of the meat and/or juice may concern some fearing that it is blood.  To the contrary, it is not blood.  Rather it is oxymyoglobin, the redness in meat exposed to oxygen that has not yet had a chance to break down with light cooking. There is little to no blood present in commercially packaged beef.  Preferred doneness is an individual choice, however.
  • Remove the roast from the heat 5-7⁰F (3-4 ⁰C) before the preferred doneness to allow for carryover cooking.  Tenting helps to ensure temperature rise and hold heat for serving.  Meats roasted at low temperatures (250°F or lower) have very little carryover cooking because they tend to cook more evenly from edge to center. There is no carryover cooking when a roast is finished by blasting it in a 500°F+ oven for a few minutes to brown and crisp the exterior.
  • Resting or letting prime rib sit at room temperature for around 20-30 minutes before slicing gives the roast time to reabsorb the juices. Slicing into the meat right away will cause the juices to run out onto the cutting board.
  • Traditional and Reverse-Sear Methods appear to be the most successful for consumers.  500⁰F/No Peek method works well when the oven holds the heat; otherwise additional time is needed to get the roast to the preferred temperature.
  • As long as the roast has been handled properly prior to roasting, food safety is not an issue with any of the methods.

Preparing prime rib need not be scary.  Arm yourself with a meat thermometer and monitor it carefully; prime rib is more forgiving than you’d expect.  For additional tips, see Cooking Prime Rib.  Starter recipes can be found at Beef—It’s What’s for Dinner.

____________________________

Degrees FDegrees C
200-275⁰F93-135⁰C
250-325⁰F121-163⁰C
325⁰F163⁰C
400-500⁰F204-260⁰C
450⁰F232⁰C
500⁰F260⁰C
500-550⁰F260-288⁰C

Resources:

A Guide to Prime Rib, Cook’s Illustrated, cooksillustrated.com

All About the Prime Rib, Beef-It’s What’s for Dinner, beefitswhatsfordinner.com

Best Prime Rib, Americas Test Kitchen, americastestkitchen.com

Cooking Prime Rib, Recipe Tips, recipe tips.com 

Houser, Dr. Terry, Associate Professor, Smithfield Foods Chair in Meat Science Extension, Department of Animal Science, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Iowa State University

How to Cook Prime Rib Perfectly, the Temperature You Need, ThermoBlog, thermoworks.com

Oven Roasting Guidelines for Beef, Nebraska Institute for Agriculture and Natural Resources, UNL Food

Prime Rib—Its What’s for Christmas Dinner, Texas A&M AgrlLife Extension

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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