Grocery Delivery Services

It seems that the common denominator in our society these days is that everyone is pressed for time. The AnswerLine staff sampled a meal delivery system last winter. We all enjoyed trying new foods and some new ways to prepare food. Another popular option these days is ordering groceries on-line. A co-worker is considering starting to get her groceries by ordering on-line.

She and I have been evaluating both the cost and convenience of using this type of service. We have been thinking through some of the ways to utilize this service while keeping the time invested to a minimum. In order to take full advantage of this service you really need to be organized. A meal plan for at least the next week would be helpful when making out a grocery order. It may seem daunting to start planning meals if it is not something that you typically do. Of course it is possible to start slowly and plan only a few meals a week at first.

The service we investigated requires a $100 minimum purchase and you have the choice of either picking the groceries up at the store or having them delivered at your home. You also can make a list with foods that you always buy at the grocery store or items that you need for specific circumstances.

My co-worker thought that she may actually pay more attention to the cost of the food while buying on-line and she may make fewer impulse purchases. Sometimes seeing the food in person or touching it caused her to buy things she had not planned on purchasing before she arrived at the store. We also noticed that items that were on sale were marked making it easier to notice sale foods.

I plan to check with her again after she enrolls in the on-line delivery site later this fall. I will have more questions about the real convenience and any additional work this method of grocery shopping requires. Please comment on questions you would like to have answered. We may be able to work together to simplify all our lives.

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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Up with Strawberries!

During the spring, summer, and fall months, I repeatedly hear,  “ What do you have in your front yard—those white columns inside of a black fence?”  What these curiosity seekers are asking about are my strawberry towers—strawberry plants grown UP or vertically instead of in a bed.  And the fence????  “You know how strawberries run!”  Not, it’s to protect the plants from the deer and rabbits that enjoy the plants and fruits as much as I do.

Several years ago, we were traveling through Minnesota and came upon a pick-your-own strawberry farm in August.  Out of curiosity, we stopped.  Inside of a green house, we found pots atop pots of strawberries being grown vertically, not in the typical low-grow patch.  And hanging on those plants, were a plethora of huge, red, succulent strawberries.  It didn’t take me long to decide that this was a much better way to grow strawberries than in the garden bed we had.  I became almost giddy with excitement as I imagined not fighting weeds, rodents, bugs, and rotting strawberries.  And best of all, no “strawberry stance” back-bending or down-on-your-knees work looking under every leaf or reaching to the middle for another berry.

My husband spent considerable time researching where to purchase the strawberry towers we had seen in Minnesota and found them at  Agro-Tower.  We initially ordered one set of six to try them out. To keep the pots together and sturdy, my husband attached a metal pipe to the center of a tractor wheel weight.  The metal pipe slips through the center of each strawberry pot with the first pot resting on the weight; the tractor weight made a very sturdy anchor.  Each pot has six open cups to hold a single strawberry plant.  When stacked on top of each other, the openings are alternated so the plants receive adequate light and water and allow the fruit to hang out of for easy picking.  With success our first year, we ordered three additional sets.

However, it is not necessary to purchase containers as they can be an investment.  All kinds of containers can be used for growing strawberries.  In the process of searching for the towers, we came across numerous DIY web articles and u-tube videos showing different styles of towers and containers. The University of California’s master gardener’s page shows how to make bucket planters.  Strawberry plants easily adapt to small spaces so containers are perfect as long as the plants get sun and plenty of moisture and nutrients. Depending on the tower height and configuration, you can have dozens of plants in less than one square foot making them ideal for the patio or deck or as a piece of “art” in the flower garden.

Growing strawberries in tower containers is different than growing in a garden so you’ll want to keep the following tips in mind. (For additional information, check out Growing Strawberries in Containers.)

  1. Ever-bearing strawberry varieties are best for containers.  They bear some fruit in mid-June and occasionally through the summer; they give a good harvest late summer and into the fall right up to frost if the plants are carefully cared for.
  2. Potting soil is a must to provide good drainage and nutrient distribution.
  3. Purchase new plants and potting soil each season to avoid disease from the previous crop.
  4. Add a good vegetable and flower fertilizer to each container before planting. Fertilize frequently throughout the season to keep the plants healthy and productive.
  5. Trim the runners off when they start to appear. However, if you have a missing plant in your containers, you can lay a close runner on the missing area and let it take root.  Trimming the runners promotes growth and more berries in the fall.
  6. Keep the fruit picked off as the berries mature. This is definitely not hard to do!!

I find that the fruit quality is better when grown in containers.   Strawberries that sit on damp ground start to rot or seem to bring the potential for rot with them even after harvest so their shelf life is really short.  By keeping them up in the air, they dry quickly and are not in contact with diseases and funguses in the soil that cause rot.  Nearly every berry is perfect when plucked from the plant and have a longer shelf life in the refrig.  I store them unwashed in an open container in the refrigerator fruit drawer.  When I get too many to eat fresh, I wash, stem, place them on a cookie sheet, and pop them into the freezer for a couple of hours before I bag and return them to the freezer to use for smoothies, jams and other recipes throughout the winter months.

So if you enjoy red, ripe, juicy, sweet strawberries (high in vitamins and antioxidants, too) from the garden but detest the effort it takes to grow or pick them in a bed, consider going “up with strawberries!” I think you’ll be glad you did!

PS – Vertical gardens are good for some vegetables and herbs, too.

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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Ice Cream!

July was National Ice Cream Month, August 8th was National Frozen Custard Day and August 19th National Soft Ice Cream Day! It seems there are more and more choices in the frozen dessert aisle these days which got me wondering what the difference is among the different types of frozen desserts. U.S. law classifies ice creams by their percentage of milk fat content. By that federal law, ice cream must contain at least 10% milkfat. It is made with more cream than milk so because of the higher fat content, up to 50% of the volume of the ice cream consists of air that has been churned into it. As you know, it is much easier to whip air into cream than into milk.

Super Premium ice cream, as you might expect, has the most fat – between 14% and 18%. If it is the French style of ice cream, it is a cooked custard made with egg yolks. Frozen custard or French ice cream must have  at least 1.4% egg yolk solids. Frozen custard is significantly richer than ice creams made without eggs.

Premium ice cream has between 11% and 15% fat.

Regular ice cream is much less dense than Super Premium or Premium ice cream. It has between 10% and 11% fat and a lot more air. This is the type of ice cream made by large manufacturers usually in the basic flavors.

Economy ice cream contains exactly 10% fat, which again is the minimum USDA standard. Anything with less than 10% fat cannot be considered ice cream without being labeled “light”.

Soft serve is molecularly similar to regular ice cream but is served at a higher temperature that allows it to be extruded into a soft swirl and gives it a lighter, softer texture. Soft serve has a lower fat content and interestingly enough, its warmer temperature actually allows your taste buds to taste the ice cream better!

You will also find sorbet, sherbet and gelato in the frozen dessert aisle. Sorbet is made from water and fruit puree or juice. It contains no milk, cream or eggs.

Sherbet is not quite ice cream and not quite sorbet. It is made with fruit and water but also has the addition of dairy. It has a slightly creamier texture than sorbet. By law, sherbet must have less than 2% fat.

Gelato is made with regular milk. It may seem to have a richer texture than ice cream but it’s dense texture from not being able to churn as much air into it compared to ice cream is what creates a richer mouth feel. Because gelato has less fat than ice cream, the flavors of gelato are typically stronger. Gelato is typically made with natural ingredients where ice cream often is made with a combination of artificial flavorings and natural fruit.

Summer is my favorite season and part of it has to do with my enjoyment of frozen desserts! I hope you are enjoying some this Summer as well!

 

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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What About Watermelon?

There are so many reasons why I love summer.  One of them just happens to be the availability of really good watermelon in our local markets.  And because I like it so much, I enjoy it several times a day.  Usually I just go for a slice, but there are many amazing ways to enjoy watermelon.  And, the best part is that it is a guilt-free indulgence—only 43 calories per cup!

Watermelon is 92 percent water.  However, every juicy bite is soaked with nutrients such as Vitamins A, B6, and C, lots of lycopene, antioxidants and amino acids.  According to the National Watermelon Promotion Board, watermelon contains more lycopene than any other fruit or vegetable. Lycopene is the pigment that gives tomatoes, watermelons, and pink grapefruits their red color and is known for its role in preventing disease.

There are four basic types of watermelon: seedless, picnic, icebox, and yellow/orange fleshed. If you’d like to know more about the various types, check out this article by Gardening Know How.  Choosing a good watermelon is simple.  Look for a watermelon that is firm, heavy, and symmetrical with a creamy, yellow spot on the underside where it lay on the ground and ripen in the sun.  It should be free of bruises, cuts, dents or soft spots.  Tap the outside and listen for a light and almost hollow sounding thud; this indicates that the water and fruit are intact and has a stable structure.

I struggled for many years on finding the best way to cut a watermelon, especially years back when watermelons were huge and hardly fit into the refrigerator.  Today, watermelon producers are giving us watermelons of a more handle able size and the internet has provided me with new resources.  After trying several methods, I’ve adopted peeling the rind as shown in this YouTube video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D68Lck4Y5Ig

There is a multitude of ways beyond the summertime slices or afternoon picnics to enjoy watermelon.  Consider smoothies, grilling, salsa, salad, pops, cupcakes, banana splits, kebabs, and parfaits for starters.  The Watermelon Board has lots of recipe ideas and creative ways to include watermelon in just about any diet.  To get the maximum absorption of lycopene, add a little fat to the meal when watermelon is on the menu.  For example, a small amount of olive oil, avocado, nuts, or fatty seafood boots lycopene absorption more than four-fold.  Also, consider roasting the seeds from a seeded watermelon.  Even the rind can be used to make a chutney, slaw, or pickles.

So what about watermelon?  Indulge!  Watermelon is healthy and delicious every day.  Rich in nutrients, you can fill up without filling out!

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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Natural vs Dutch-process Cocoa

We recently had a caller wanting to make a Chocolate Banana Bread recipe calling for Dutch-process cocoa. She did not have any on hand and was wondering what the difference was between it and Natural Cocoa.

There are two basic types of cocoa – Natural and Dutch-process. Natural cocoa is solid unsweetened chocolate that has had most of its fat removed before being ground into powder. Dutch-process cocoa is Natural cocoa that has been treated with an alkalizing agent to lower its acidity allowing for more chocolate flavor. That difference in acidity though means you cannot always substitute one type of cocoa for another in recipes due to the type and amount of leavener also used in the recipe.

If your recipe calls for baking powder – or baking powder predominantly along with some baking soda- choose either type of cocoa. The baking powder has already balanced the acidity in the recipe so the cocoa is used more for flavoring than leavening.

If your recipe calls for predominantly baking soda and there are no other acidic ingredients (yogurt, vinegar, buttermilk, sour cream, etc), you will want to use the Natural cocoa. The Natural cocoa’s acidity will neutralize baking soda’s potentially strong flavor.

If you do not have both types of cocoa on hand you may substitute with some changes. If your recipe calls for a combination of natural cocoa and baking soda, and you want to use Dutch-process: substitute an equal amount of Dutch-process but replace the baking soda with twice the amount of baking powder, leaving the remaining ingredients the same. If your recipe calls for Dutch-process cocoa plus baking powder and you want to use Natural cocoa: substitute equal amounts of cocoa but replace the baking powder with half the amount of baking soda and again leave the other ingredients the same.

Many people prefer to use a combination cocoa that will work in most all recipes. Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa is a combination of both Natural and Dutch-process cocoas.

If you are making a recipe that calls for cocoa but no leavening, such as hot fudge sauce or hot chocolate, it is fine to use either cocoa as you are using it for flavor.

 

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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The Power of Blue . . . berries!

If you haven’t heard it before, red, blue, and purple fruits are packed with good stuff that help your body flight disease!  These fruits contain anti-oxidant compounds like anthocyanins and polyphenolic flavonoids.  These powerful compounds help to protect the body from stress and diseases while boosting the immune system.

Blueberries are believed to be the KING of the blues as they contain the highest antioxidant capacity of all commonly consumed fruits and vegetables.  They are also among the most nutrient dense berries.  One cup of blueberries has only 84 calories with no fat; of the 15 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams are dietary fiber.  That one cup of berries also provides 24 percent of your daily-recommended (RDA) serving of Vitamin A, 36% of Vitamin K, and 25% of manganese.  Study after study has shown that blueberries are incredibly good for our health.

I was in North Carolina recently to visit family.  While there, we went to one of the regional NC Farmer’s Markets and I was reminded of North Carolina’s prominence in the US blueberry industry; blueberries were freshly picked, plentiful, and delicious!

With blueberries now in season, this is a good time to stock up.  Studies have shown that blueberries’ good qualities survive freezing.  Antioxidants found in fresh foods are typically very delicate, but research finds that 3 to 6 months of freezing has little to no effect on the antioxidant qualities of blueberries.  These findings are great news for anyone who grows, buys, or picks fresh berries in season and wants to enjoy them year round.  This is also great news for anyone who has restricted access to fresh blueberries but can find them in the freezer section at the market.

Blueberries can be enjoyed in numerous ways.  If you need ideas, check out the assortment of recipes at the US Blueberry Council website.  My preschool grandchildren enjoyed making their own snack; we dipped them in yogurt and froze them for an hour on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet.  The fact that blueberries are sweet, colorful, and can be enjoyed fresh and frozen is a tasty bonus.  So whether you are popping a handful into your mouth for a snack, topping off a favorite dish or a green salad, or trying them in a recipe, blueberries are a simple and healthful ingredient that brightens just about any dish.  I hope you will enjoy getting to know blueberries by exploring all the fun and simple ways to use them.

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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Popcorn

A favorite snack or Sunday night dinner at our house is popcorn. There are so many options on the market right now it is hard to know which ones to select for any health benefits. If you can pop your own in an air popper or on top of the stove you are going to reap the most health benefits. We use a microwave popper that you may or may not add any oil to before popping.

Popcorn is a whole grain and naturally has lots of fiber while being low in fat and low in calories. It is high in complex carbohydrates and gluten free. Popcorn is also a low glycemic food.

Popcorn offers many polyphenols found in plant foods which help rid the body of free radicals which damage cells and promote aging. Of all plant foods, popcorn has one of the highest concentrations of polyphenols, containing more polyphenols and antioxidents than most fruit.

If you are going to buy any of the pre-packaged popcorns available on the market, make sure to read the label carefully, pay attention to the serving size, and choose the most natural product you can without a lot of added ingredients and flavor additions. Consumer Reports recently did an article on the huge increase in demand for bagged popcorn if you are interested in seeing how these products lived up to their health claims.

Happy snacking!

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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Alternative pastas

I was recently visiting my daughter and she took me to a big new Whole Foods near her. I knew Whole Foods named “alternative pasta” as one of the Top 10 Food Trends for 2017 so I was interested in what they had as I am interested in cutting back on carbs and boosting my plant protein intake. Most people are familiar with eggplant lasagna using slices of eggplant in place of regular wheat lasagna noodles but now there are so many more options available. I found many spiralized veggies at Whole Foods that I could substitute for spaghetti – beets, broccoli, butternut squash, sweet potato, parsnips, etc. Spiralized cucumbers were available for salads. I think many of those are worth experimenting with for an added low carb, low calorie nutrition boost.

I also found pastas made from legumes such as chick peas and lentils. These were even more interesting to me. While a typical 2-oz serving of traditional pasta and lentil pasta both contain similar amounts of carbs and calories, legume pastas are packed with plant protein. For example, black bean rotini, which is made by drying beans and grinding them into a flour-like consistency then combining with water and forming into pasta shapes, has 14 grams of protein and 15 grams of fiber.

Pastas made from quinoa and kelp were also available. I am excited to try some of these alternative pastas in the next few weeks! I will still enjoy the regular pastas just like I have for many years but this will hopefully add a few more options into meal preparation that might not seem so heavy for Summer.

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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Spatchcock

whole raw chicken isolated on white background

My sister just went to a cookbook class she belongs to and told me the demonstration that day was on Spatchcocking a chicken. That was a new term to me and thought it might be for some of you too. Basically it means to butterfly. You accomplish it by removing the backbone of a whole chicken then laying the chicken flat before roasting, grilling, or cooking in your cast iron skillet. The process makes for a chicken with a super crisp skin and moist meat in much less time than it takes to roast or grill a whole chicken without spatchcocking it.

It is quicker because it exposes more surface area to the heat. It should take about 15 minutes less time to cook through. Chicken has two different kinds of meat that cook through at two different temperatures. Breast meat starts to dry out at 150 degrees and dark leg meat isn’t thoroughly cooked until it reaches 165-170 degrees. By spatchcocking, both kinds of meat get done at the same time creating a juicier chicken. And since all of the skin is exposed evenly to the heat when spatchcocking, it all crisps up evenly.

So how do you spatchcock? Start by placing the chicken breast side down on your work surface. You can also do this in the pan you are going to cook the chicken in if you want. Starting at the tail end, cut along both sides of the backbone with sharp kitchen shears and remove the backbone. You can save the backbone to make your own chicken stock. Open the chicken up, turn it breast side down and push on it to flatten it. Cook at 400-450 degrees until your meat thermometer reaches 165 degrees when inserted into the thickest part of the leg meat.

I think it is an interesting process to try. Whole chickens are less expensive than buying cut-up chickens and this process should help get a flavorful dinner on the table more quickly!

 

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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Making Granola Bars a Healthy Treat

Crunchy, chewy, chocolatey, fruity Granola Bars are an American snack and breakfast staple and favorite.  In fact, granola bars are so popular, they even have their own annual day of celebration in January.  Pitched as a healthy food (and they can be), the nutrition label often tells otherwise—most are little more than candy bars in disguise!  Many are loaded with sugar and high fructose sugar and short on fiber and protein.  The satiety value is low—in a short amount of time, hunger sets in again.

So how can you enjoy your favorite snack without leaving you hungry or wanting more?  Here are a couple of ideas to up the granola bar game:

  1. Look for a better bar.  Check the ingredients and nutrition label.  Specifically look for bars that are high in fiber and protein, sweetened with honey or natural syrups, and include nuts, grains, seeds, and fruits.
  2. Make or concoct your own. There is an abundance of recipes to choose from.  Groovy Granola Bars from Oregon State University is an easy recipe to get you started.  Not only is it packed with fiber and protein, it also provides half of your daily value for Omega-3’s.  Change it up with other dried fruits, nuts, seeds, and even a few dark chocolate chips. Coconut palm sugar can be used to replace the brown sugar without altering the flavor.  However, the American Diabetes Assn cautions that coconut palm sugar but should be treat the same as brown sugar for those needing to count calories and carbohydrates.

We’d love to hear your granola bar story.  Please share in the comments!

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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